Scott Ward Abernethy on ‘The Master and Margarita’ and Acting in DC

The extension of Constellation Theatre’s nifty The Master and Margarita provided an opportunity to interview Scott Ward Abernethy, who portrays the Devilish Woland in the production that runs through March 10th, 2019. With recent roles at The Keegan Theatre, Adventure Theatre MTC, Constellation Theatre Company and more, Abernethy has become a regular fixture on DC stages since moving to the region in 2015.

David Siegel: You came to DC in late 2015 from Seattle. What drew you to the DC area and its theater scene?

Scott Ward Abernethy. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Scott Ward Abernethy. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Scott Ward Abernethy: It was kind of a serendipitous turn, actually. I love Seattle. Maybe it is all the green and the wet, maybe it’s because it was my first city as an adult. When I decided to stay after grad school I made a promise to try something new before 30. I was 28, I had just finished my most fulfilling 9 months of work to date, but had nothing else lined up. To top that off, our landlord (I shared a house) was asking us to move out. I also needed my family. My sister lives in Philly, and my mother lives in town, and I have visited DC theatre before. I liked that I could live and work in the same city, and in that regard, it felt like Seattle, just a little bigger. I came here for spring auditions, booked Keegan Theatre, and came to stay that fall. That being said, it was hard leaving Seattle, and those wonderful people.

Once in the DC area, how did you navigate into what is now regular work on DMV professional theater stages?

Short answer: Poorly. Haha. I know this sounds hackneyed, but I think I have been pretty damn lucky, and the reception I’ve gotten here speaks more to the community than it does my prowess at the helm. I emailed some people, and sent out my headshots, and tried at auditions. It doesn’t hurt that the market of roles for adult white men is pretty heavily skewed to my favor either.

What led you audition to for the role of Woland (the Devil) in Constellation’s The Master and Margarita?

At a Constellation Theatre Company donor event last summer, I was fresh off Caucasian Chalk Circle with them so [Founding Artistic Director] Allison Stockman asked Amanda Forstrom (Margarita) and me to read from the show as a season preview. I read Master. I loved it, I love Amanda. It was great. I dropped a lot of unsubtle hints about my interest. Then Allison had me read Woland, and it clicked. I will almost always gravitate towards weirder, darker roles. What can I say? It feels good to be bad.

Your Woland has such a wry sense of humor. Do you have any special routines to prepare for the role?

It’s all in the words, baby. I tried to fight it a lot at first, but it’s pretty clear that Woland has a certain knowledge of events before or as they are happening, which presents an acting challenge. I had to distinguish between what he does and doesn’t have total control over in each moment, and once we determined what is destiny, everything else becomes a game for him. He is ancient (credit to Forstrom to reminding me of this once), so being surprised by people is very meaningful; he relished it, and it is RARE. That and the costume. Holy SHIT the costume. Thank you, Erik Teague.

Scott Ward Abernethy as Woland in Constellation Theatre's production of 'The Master and Margarita.' Photo by DJ Corey Photography.
Scott Ward Abernethy as Woland in Constellation Theatre’s production of ‘The Master and Margarita.’ Photo by DJ Corey Photography.

What would you like the audience to take away with after seeing Constellation’s The Master and Margarita?

“…they would flay the surface of the earth to enjoy a fantasy of bare light.” Shadows and forgiveness. And read the book, it’s easily one of my all-time favorites now.

 I understand that you have a love of clowns and Shakespeare. Tell me more.

Oooooooh yeah yeah yeah. I hold the firmly grounded belief that I am a total idiot, and I love it. I also believe you’re an idiot. Our families are idiots. My roommates, neighbors, strangers, and every US president but especially this one, are all idiots. As a world populated by idiots, we are all also operating on some constant level of unwavering fear for our very existence. Clowns touch that. Not only do they touch that, but they bring it out of us the healthiest way possible: laughter.

As for my love of Shakespeare, I would like to think it is self-explanatory, but maybe not. As a self-professed idiot, I feel much freer (and safer) when I can put my faith in a structure I did not build myself. It’s magnificent. It’s like someone gives you the five-digit combination to a secret treasure vault, and when you open it there is a full-length mirror inside. Poetry man, what a trip.

You have received a Helen Hayes nomination for your performance in Constellation’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle. What does that nomination mean to you?

I listened to Amy Poehler read her book “Yes, please” recently, and she describes the feeling beautifully. You didn’t know there was pudding, you didn’t want pudding, but now that someone said you might get pudding, you kind of want the pudding.

Overall, I think the timing of the announcement meant the most. It was opening night for The Master and Margarita, tech had been a little long and we were all pretty tired. I got a text around the twenty to places call, and was honestly floored. I looked around. I was in a dressing room with fellow nominee Louis [E. Davis]. Amanda [Forstrom] and Tori [Tolentino] are nominated one room over. I live with one of my best friends and fellow nominee Ryan [Tumulty]. I am in the same theatre working with so many of the same people as I did for Caucasian Chalk Circle, not least of which is Allison [Arkell Stockman]. Maximum impact. Thanks, DC.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Yeah, David. You’ve been involved in theatre, and writing, and writing about theatre for most of your life, right? Surely I’m not your first interview, so what inspires you to compile an interview? What does it mean to you to seek insight into an artistic community? Yes, I am really asking, and yes please publish it! Also, I am sorry I called you an idiot.

David Siegel: I marvel at what you, any actor, the technical creative team members, the artistic directors, front-of-the-house folk, and everyone associated with a theater production do each time a production is staged. None of you have a place to hide. You are part of a very special group of like-minded folk who speak something of a common language. I enjoy (and am energized) by bringing different aspects of your lives to my readers’ attention, and beyond what I do when I write a review.

Running Time: Two hours and 40 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission.

The Master and Margarita plays through March 10, 2019, at Constellation Theatre Company’s residence at Source – 1835 14th Street NW, Washington DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 204-7741 or go online.