In Part 5 of a series of interviews with the director and cast of Prince William Little Theatre’s production of Julius Caesar – set in the Soviet Union during the August Coup of 1991 – meet Leland Shook.
Joel: Please introduce yourself and tell our readers where they may have seen you perform on our local stages. What shows and roles you have played?
Leland: My name is Leland Shook. I have been part of the Washington Area theatre community for about 15 years. I have worked with many groups in the area including the Sterling Playmakers, The Alliance Theatre, Prince William Little Theatre, and I am the former Artistic Director for Fauquier Community Theatre. I am normally found playing the villain in whodunits, but have worked in Shakespeare as well as Musicals, such as Captains Courageous and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. I like dark sticky dramas and have played some of the more iconic roles of the genre, including John Proctor in The Crucible.
Have you performed in a Shakespearean production before and/or Julius Caesar before? If yes, where and who did you play?
This is actually my third recent production. I have performed in Twelfth Night twice actually, once as Orsino and, most recently, as Feste. Malvolio is next.
Who do you play in this production and how do you relate and not relate to your character?
I play the role of Cassius, the great instigator. I am almost nothing like Cassius except for I admit to the sin of ambition. Cassius is grasping, reaching and, as far as I have been able to tell, completely without saving grace. He is as close to pure evil as I have played before.
What is the play about from the point of view of your character?
From the point of my character? It is about the downfall of an ambitious military dictator who has gotten way too big for his own toga. Cassius feels as though the time has come for a change. Under the guise of helping rid the nation of the current leadership, he seeks to place himself in power behind the throne of a puppet dictator of his choosing.
How did you prepare for your role?
I did some reading on the history of Caius Cassius, quite a naughty fellow. This role was difficult to prepare for because, first, you have to start with what he is not and work your way back. I had to decide how I felt about all the rest of the characters in the show and then try to make it all meld together in such a way that it allowed me to do my job in helping to tell the story.
What lines and scene were the most difficult for you to perform and memorize and why?
I struggle with word perfect memorization, always have. I start with a loose paraphrase and I build the integrity of the text along with the characterization, blocking, and character interaction.
What does Julius Caesar have to say to modern audiences? What recent events parallel the events that occur in this play?
I bend to the wisdom of my director and her extensive study of this. I could not possibly make it any more clear.
How did your director help you to shape your performance and what were some of the challenges you faced and how did the director solve them for you?
She was a great teacher in that she made us focus so hard on the why and the where of our characters. Why did you do that? Oh yeah, well how come? Where were you coming from? Where were you going? What does it say about your character when talking to or interacting with this character? Over and over and over. Great lesson for young actors. There is nothing so important as a steady and rock hard character foundation.
What’s next for you on the stage?
I am currently directing The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee for Fauquier Community Theatre. After that, I will be directing Steel Magnolias for Ghostlight Players, a new organization also in Southern Fauquier County.
Julius Caesar plays from October 16 through October 25, 2015 at Prince William Little Theatre performing at the Gregory Family Theater at the Hylton Performing Arts Center on the George Mason University Campus – 10960 George Mason Circle, in Manassas, VA. For tickets, purchase them online, or at the box office.
Meet The Director and Cast of PWLT’s ‘Julius Caesar’: Part 1: Director Mary-Anne Sullivan.
Meet The Director and Cast of PWLT’s ‘Julius Caesar,’: Part 2: Scott Olson, Matthew Scarborough, and Jay Tilley.
Meet The Director and Cast of PWLT’s Julius Caesar: Part 3: Haliya Roberts.
Meet The Director and Cast of PWLT’s ‘Julius Caesar’: Part 4: AnuRa Harrison.
Meet The Director and Cast of PWLT’s Julius Caesar: Part 5: Leland Shook.
Sam Hall’s review of review of Julius Caesar at PWLT on DCMetroTheaterArts.