Monday, February 10, 2014

An interview with Ken Williams

OCTOBER, BEFORE I WAS BORN actor Ken T. Williams makes his MCT mainstage debut after performing in the staged reading of OCTOBER, BEFORE I WAS BORN in 2011 and the Young Playwrights Festival one-acts A ROSE FOR MRS. KEMP and NAUGHTY CHILDREN. He most recently appeared in THE UNDERSTUDY at Renaissance Theaterworks and has also worked with First Stage, Optimist Theatre, In Tandem Theatre, Windfall Ensemble and Bunny Gumbo. He is a graduate of UW-Milwaukee. 

Ken T. Williams

Tell us a little about your character, Houston? What are some of his key characteristics and motivations?
Houston is an ex-convict that currently lives with parents having just recently been released from prison.  He is not someone who thinks before acting and usually puts himself in difficult situations because of that impatience.  Houston is living in the shadow of his older siblings especially Paul who seems to do everything right.  His objective throughout the play seems to be motivated by a desire to be useful.  Yet at every turn his usefulness gets him in trouble.  

In 2011 you played Houston in MCT’s staged reading of OCTOBER, BEFORE I WAS BORN. Please share insights on what it is like to return to this piece for a fully-staged production.

First of all it’s great to be able to revisit a character you enjoyed playing.  But even more so when you get to see that character come to life on the stage. There is also a sense of ownership in having spent time with this character for more than two years.  Michael knew pretty early on that he wanted to stage this show so I knew I would have the chance to play with Houston again.  I can't wait to see where Houston takes me over the course of the production.  To be able to grow with a character and see yourself grow as well.  We change every moment of the day therefore our characters must change as well.

Playwright Lori Matthews attended your first rehearsal and is available as a resource to the artists in MCT’s production. What is it like having access to the playwright?

It is an absolute blessing.  Although Lori did such an excellent job writing this script and we talked so much during the reading that I haven't needed to contact her often.  But it is so nice to know that if I get stuck or we get to a point where we need a little perspective we can call her and she is more than willing to shed some light for us.  At the same time Lori is more than willing to share this with us and let us make these characters part of who we are and that is something really special.  

You are currently performing in THE UNDERSTUDY at Renaissance Theaterworks and in rehearsal for OCTOBER, BEFORE I WAS BORN at the same time. What are some similarities and differences between the two characters? Do you ever find that working on multiple shows at once affects either character?

Well both Harry from THE UNDERSTUDY and Houston from OCTOBER,BEFORE I WAS BORN seem to mess things up for themselves but in very different ways.  Harry's problem is that he doesn't know what he minute he hates movies and the next he's jazzed about them.  He leaves Roxanne but immediately regrets the decision...especially after he sees her.  Harry is serious about his career and how it is perceived but his personal life is in shambles...and he knows it.  Houston on the other hand doesn't have a clue how bad off he is.  He loves to blame others for the hardships he's had to suffer in his life.  Responsibility is not something he is comfortable with and when it falls in his lap he can rarely, I say rarely, rise to the occasion.   

What are some of your favorite moments in theatre that made you who you are today?

Every moment I get is my favorite.  I love diving into a character and living in their shoes.  I love filling in a back story and realizing the relationships, discovering the objectives, looking for the obstacles, and creating the tactics to get to my objective.  I love the process, but more than that I love sharing it with an audience.  I love being in front of a group of people willing to go on a journey with me and taking them somewhere they didn't expect.  There are many defining moments for me in my career, but if I had to choose one it would be working on LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT with a very close cast that included my wife.  That was a show where I spent more time preparing for a character than performing him...and it was amazing.  The whole process opened me up to really using history to dig into a character.  Something that also helps with this show. 

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