In Part 3 of a series of interviews with the director and cast of Prince George’s Little Theatre’s Once Upon a Mattress, meet Linda Swann and John Shackleford.
Joel: Tell our readers where they may have seen you on local stages.
Linda: I was last onstage as the Queen in 2nd Star’s Cinderella. I just love being royalty, what can I say? I am not usually onstage – I switched costuming shows instead about 15 years ago once I realized a costumer doesn’t have to go to as many rehearsals or remember any lines. I have costumed many shows for 2nd Star including the aforementioned Cinderella, Brigadoon, 1776, La Mancha, Hello, Dolly!, Camelot, and Children of Eden, the last two for which I won the coveted WATCH Award.
For PGLT I have costumed 20th Century, You Never Know, and Over the River as well as this one, and I have also costumed for Greenbelt Arts Center, Annapolis Summer Garden Theater, Children’s Theater of Annapolis, Colonial Players, Silver Spring Stage, Rockville Musical Theatre, British Embassy, and a few others. I guess you could say that my designs have been onstage more than I have.
John: I performed with PGLT here at the Bowie Playhouse last year, as Nunzio in Over the River and Through the Woods. I’ve been in numerous plays in Alexandria, Virginia, mostly at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, including Max Levine (WATCH Award, Best Supporting Actor) in Heaven Can Wait; and as Bill in Funny Money (LTA, Best Supporting Actor), both in 2012.
Tell us about the characters you play and how you relate to her and him. Do these characters have any of your personality or character traits?
Linda: I play Queen Agravain, the tragically misunderstood tyrannical mother to Prince Dauntless. She only wants perfection for her son (or at least that’s what she wants everyone to think). I too enjoy perfection, whether it is a well-ensembled production, perfectly trimmed costume, or well thought out lesson plan (I am a teacher by day). Those are things I crave and I pour that craving into Queen Agravain to bring her to life. Unlike her, however, I at least understand that some things won’t be perfect. Not all shows will have great ensembles (unlike our show), sometimes the costume is good enough as is, and lesson plans are fickle things. The only thing I can do is my best, and I owe that to Agravain and the audience (and Frank, our Director).
John: I play the King – He’s a stifled (voiceless) King, unable to help the son he loves, and get him out from under the grasp of the overbearing Queen. The King and I are both a bit loony – Dick Van Dyke comes to mind. (Yeah, yeah, old school, but hey, so is the King!)
What has been the most fun playing this character?
Linda: She’s so over the top and takes herself way too seriously. I have the most fun bossing people around and flouncing across the stage in a big, hoop skirted costume making people get out of my way. I also love her temper tantrums, they’re great for letting off steam after a long day at work. Being Agravain is simply great fun especially since I am shorter than the rest of the cast. She’s the shortest, baddest, most overbearing, motor mouth around, and I just love her.
John: It’s been a fun challenge to come up with mimes that work; mimes that will connect with the audience at about the same moment as they connect with my scene partners.
What have been some of the challenges you have had preparing for your role and how did your director help you with these challenges?
Linda: I have faced several challenges preparing for this role as well as being in the show in general. It has not been easy costuming the show, playing a leading role, and gearing up for teaching school again this fall. There have been times when I have actually started falling asleep at rehearsal because I’m exhausted. Juggling that stuff, however, was nothing compared to the challenge of having to blindly sit on a short stool, hoping the actor has placed it under my butt so I didn’t fall down. I have a huge phobia about sitting on something I can’t see to the point where I was almost in tears rehearsing it.
Frank, our Director, and our Props Mistress, Kate did their best to calm my fears. Frank let me practice over and over and Kate even went so far as to make the stool a wee bit higher (or at least that’s what she told me and I’m going to believe it). Ken, the poor man who has to put the stool under me, has had to put up with a lot, and I am grateful for his patience as well. Frank has also been very understanding and patient when it comes to me remembering lines and moving about on stage. I haven’t had to do this stuff in years and have forgotten how much hard work acting is.
John: One of the most unique challenges has been memorizing mimes, instead of lines because it has been a different type of character preparation. And the mimes can, and do, slightly change from rehearsal to rehearsal (unlike lines). I try and make them to be easy cues for the next line an actor says. But the biggest challenge for me as an actor was understanding what kind of person this King is. Also, When Princess Winnifred says “It [our kingdom] is a nut house!” that hit home with me.
Which character in the show is most like you, and why?
Linda: I am most definitely like the Queen. I have a tremendous streak of arrogance that comes through on occasion, and I’ve been known to shout, “OFF WITH YOUR HEAD!” to any actor who rips a costume. I can’t help it. Like Agravain, I care about the way things look. Did I stay within my color palette? Did I use too much of one color? Is anyone blending into the background? Is the King Kingly enough? Does anything look totally out of place? Granted, with a fairytale piece I am allowed to combine a few eras, but the overall “look” has to be perfect just as the Queen would want it to be.
John: As for that nut house I mentioned, it’s very hard to find any two nuts that are very much alike. I guess the character most like me would have to be my son, Dauntless, as he reminds me of myself in younger days. (Which might explain how I ended up with this Queen?!)
What do you admire most about your fellow cast members?
Linda: My fellow cast members are absolutely wonderful to be around. Many have pitched in to help with sewing, painting sets, and building whatever was needed. We are very proud of this show, and have a lot of fun being around each other to the point where our director often has to put on his own “Agravain voice” and tell us to knock it off. I am especially grateful to several cast members who, after I kept flubbing up my big ‘mommalogue’ in rehearsals, came over to me and said, “Don’t worry, keep trying, it’ll come.”
John: Their insights and, with that, their limitless ideas when working out bits of business in scenes. There’s a lot of talent onstage in this show!
What do you want audiences to take with them after watching you perform in Once Upon a Mattress?
Linda: Watching me perform? I hope they’re not there to just watch me perform, they’d miss out on the other wonderful talent in the show. If they are going to take anything with them, I hope it is the realization that they were able to immerse themselves in a magical tale which allowed them to escape the craziness of reality for a few hours. Hopefully this brightens their day and makes them smile and maybe they’ll share that smile with another and brighten someone else’s day.
John: I’d like the audience to realize the King’s frustrations/challenges of dealing with being voiceless – if only in a nutty, humorous way.
What is your favorite line that your character says? What is your favorite line that another character says?
Linda: The line I say that’s a personal favorite is, “She’ll have her test, and she’ll fail just like all the others did, fair and square!” It reminds me of the Wicked Witch of the West’s line “I’ll get you my pretty, and your mangy little dog too!” (insert maniacal laughter here) which is one of my most favorite lines ever along with “I was raised to be charming, not sincere.” from Into the Woods. Being the Queen, I am of course enamored of all of my lines and believe they are the most important, but if I had to choose a favorite line or lines from another character, I would have to say that I thoroughly enjoy how King Sextimus’ delivers all but his very last lines.
John: Well, since I have many, many more mimes than lines, my favorite has to be the one I came up with to identify the Queen: a facial grimace, book-ended with my hands facing the audience in a claw-like fashion.
As for another character’s favorite line – Hmmmmm… there’s quite a bunch to pick from! One might be when Lady Larken asks me: “Do you have any idea what can happen to a relationship between a man and a woman?” It’s a priceless moment.
Once Upon a Mattress plays from September 11-26, 2015 at Prince George’s Little Theatre performing at Bowie Playhouse – 16500 White Marsh Park Drive, in Bowie, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 937-7458 and press 1, at the door, or online.
Meet the Director and Cast of Prince George’s Little Theatre’s ‘Once Upon a Mattress’: Part 1: Director Frank Pasqualino.
Meet the Director and Cast of Prince George’s Little Theatre’s ‘Once Upon a Mattress’: Part 2: Meg Nemeth and Mike Culhane.
Meet the Director and Cast of Prince George’s Little Theatre’s ‘Once Upon a Mattress’: Part 3: Linda Swan and John Shackleford.