Interview: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine‘s Armin Shimerman Talks Classical Theater
Theater nerds, gather round!
You may have noticed the Shakespeare Insult Challenge we posted about a while back, which was all to benefit the Antaeus Theater Company, a classical theater company in Los Angeles that is currently running a Kickstarter to move into a much-needed larger space. Armin Shimerman, whom you all might know best as Quark on Deep Space Nine and Principal Snyder on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, has been involved with the theater company for over a decade.
TMS had the chance to speak with Shimerman about his experiences with the theater company, why classical theater is so important, and why the Antaeus Theater Company is such a special place.
Teresa Jusino (TMS): What’s your personal history with Antaeus Theater Company? How did you get involved, and how long have you been a part of it?
Armin Shimerman: I was involved for eleven years and [my wife, Kitty] has been involved for nine. I’d heard a great deal about the theater – they’d done great work – and I knew a lot of the talented actors that were involved. My old friend Tony Amendola, who’s been in the theater from the very beginning was working on a project called The Dickens Project and said “You know, they’re doing these readings – why don’t you come down and participate?” Which I did, and they seemed pleased with me after a short period of time, and they asked me to become a member. I did, and relatively quickly, they started to move me up into management positions.
Now, I’m the Co-Associate Artistic Director.
TMS: How long have you been in that position, and what do you bring to the table in that role?
Shimerman: For about three or four years. What do I bring to the table? I’m part of the Board of the theater as well, and so we do long-range planning. As the chair of the membership committee, it’s our responsibility to bring new people into the company, so we’re always looking for wonderful actors to join us. At this point now, we have about 180 actors involved in the company. I’m one of the larger donors to the company as well. Basically, doing whatever I can to move us from one step to the next, and in this current step to [our new space in] Glendale.
In addition to the management responsibilities, I’m also a member of the academy. The theater has a classical theater academy where we teach actors how to approach various playwrights, and my responsibility is to teach them how to approach Shakespeare. I’ve been doing that for about ten years now, so that’s a big part of my responsibility to the theater as well.
TMS: Antaeus is primarily devoted to classical theater. What do you find is the interest level in classical theater these days?
Shimerman: My belief is that what classical theater does better than other types of theater is a true focus on language. That is one of the things that young actors, particularly the ones who’ve been working in new plays, and TV shows, and films – they’re drawn to the fact that the language of classical authors is fascinating, and they like being able to say those words that they don’t necessarily get to use in “kitchen dramas.” And that’s appealing to them. It’s the difference between climbing a small hill and climbing an Alp. The struggle is what’s exciting.
TMS: Part of the Kickstarter campaign that’s going around (which we covered at TMS) is the Shakespeare Insult Challenge, and there seemed to be a lot of genre actors involved in the company…
Shimerman: Well, a lot of that is because I’m good friends with a lot of the Star Trek actors, and a lot of the people who have been kind enough to put out insults and make videos are all friends of mine who’ve heard about the theater from me and my wife. And they, like you, have come to see plays there and like what they see, so it was an easy sell really for me to convince my Star Trek friends to help out. And they’re happy to do so.
And there’s also a connection – at least the actors believe there’s a connection – the prominent actors in Star Trek are all classical actors. That’s where we got started – that’s where our hearts lie. So, for them to support a classical theater is really easy for them to do, because most of them have a background in classical theater and have done it themselves.
TMS: Obviously you have a film and television career as well as your theatrical one. What keeps you coming back to theater?
Shimerman: Language. Language and the struggle – climbing that impossible hill. The other thing is, in TV and film, in which you can find wonderful work, you have relatively little time to craft a performance. You show up on the set, you make some choices, the other actors make some choices, and in a relatively short matter of time – in TV it’s usually an hour, in film it could be half a day – you come up with a performance, and it gets put on tape, and it lives there forever.
In the theater, you get a month to craft every nuance of your performance, and that’s appealing to actors of all stripes, because you have a more sculpted performance, and you can be proud of all your choices. You can be proud of your choices when you do them quickly too, but this gives you the time to really hone your work, and really be sure of what it is that you’re doing.
And there’s also the immediacy of the relationship between the actors and the audience. You’re immediately given feedback when you do something on stage, which you don’t get on-camera.
TMS: Whenever you watch Star Trek, they’re always watching Shakespeare, or listening to classical music, because it’s lasted well into the future. Why do you think these things have lasted, and is there anything current that you see as becoming the classics of the future?
Shimerman: Oh, certainly! Well, why do I think they last? They last, again, because of language. I don’t think it’s the stories themselves, or the characters. Most of the stories are copied from other sources, and they’re just retold and rehashed. It’s what a really brilliant playwright can do with language, and how people speak, how they relate to each other, how they investigate their own thoughts – that’s what makes them eternal.
And certainly there are living playwrights that are doing the same thing. We have Mamet… we’re currently doing Caryl Churchill over at Antaeus, and she too will last forever. There are lots of people.
TMS: Getting back to Antaeus as a company for a second, what is it about this company that makes it so special to you?
Shimerman: Well that’s an easy answer. First of all, it’s the group of people. We are very concerned about who we bring into the company, and it’s very much a very large family. Everybody seems to like everybody else, and likes to work with each other. And I think the reason why they like each other, and like to work with each other, is because they’re so very talented. Because of who we are and what we do, we attract really high-caliber actors. It’s great fun to work with them. It’s like playing chess – it’s no fun to play chess with someone who isn’t as good as you are. It’s great fun to play with someone who’s better than you are. Because you learn from them, and the provoke you, and they stimulate you, and they inspire you. So that’s one thing.
Two, we do other things besides plays, which I’ve hinted at already. We have an academy, we have an outreach program to youth in trouble, and that’s an exciting program. We go into campuses or schools where kids have perhaps not had the best of lives, and introduce them to classical themes. We get them to come out of their shells, we get them to have richer lives. And – I don’t say that we change their lives overnight – but we introduce them to things that they may not have come into contact with before, and it stimulates them. And they, in turn, grow. And watching them grow, watching take their first, tentative steps – whether it’s through acting, or through writing – is glorious to watch. So that’s another reason why I like the company a great deal.
And lastly, we do really good work, and watching that work is exciting to me – not as an actor so much, but as an audience member. When I go see my fellow actors perform, I’m invariably moved, and that’s something that every human being should be. They should be moved by theater, by dance, by art. That’s what art does, and we’re lucky enough to do that for people more often than not.
They do indeed. I actually live within walking distance of the Antaeus Theater Company and have been to a couple of their productions – they’re really amazing. While I’m sad that they’re leaving my immediate neighborhood, I’m thrilled that the company has expanded so much that they need more space to do all of the wonderful things they do.
If you value classical theater, as well as actors you love having a place where they can sink their teeth into the meatiest roles of their lives, I’d encourage you to visit the Antaeus Kickstarter page and back or share the campaign as you are able. They’ve only got eight days left of their campaign, and they’re less than $10,000 away from their goal. You know what to do, theater nerds!
And if you don’t, thou art a spleeny, rump-fed flax-wench!
(photo via Antaeus Theater Company Kickstarter)
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