Charles Smith, playing Doctor Faustus, took a few minutes out of his day to give us an interview. Let’s see what he had to say!
Why did you want to be a part of this production?
I was aware of the general story of the play, but then finally read it with my oldest daughter for a school assignment she had last year. We both enjoyed it more than we thought we would, and I think the next day they announced this as a possible show for 2016. We got very excited and started thinking about who we would want to audition for (I actually wanted to be Mephistopheles).
In addition, I think this story is very relatable to people in ways I wanted to explore. Obviously not the part where he summons a demon, but the ideas of struggling with faith, approaching the perceived limits of man and knowledge, the feeling of being too far gone down a path to turn one’s life around, having big plans for one’s life in youth only to find that life has gone by and nothing has been accomplished– I could go on and on.
Finally, I have worked very well with the director and production crew in the past and was elated to know they were involved in this play.
How have you prepared for this role?
First and foremost by reading it over and over again. Each time I do I find something new tucked away inside. Also I have read multiple research papers on the play and its different versions (no one is exactly sure which text, if either, is exclusively Marlowe’s), on the Faust legend and Johann Georg Faust whom it is based, as well as watching several different productions of the play to see how others (both professional and students) interpreted the character. Using all that, I’ve attempted to identify the building blocks of his life he never directly references in the play, but would certainly have an impact on his emotions and actions. What happened to his family? What originally caused him to waver in his faith? Was he bullied in youth for being so different? How have his past relationships (if any) ended? Is ANY of this real or is it all just the personification of the internal conflict of his brain?
I think he is an intelligent but incredibly emotionally immature man who has not had any guidance in his life and has been unable to make a worthwhile connection with anyone. He feels like the issue is that no one is smart enough to relate to him, when in fact it’s his childish nature and severe narcissism that get in the way. Narcissism is built on insecurity, and he’s got that to spare. He feels like no matter how hard he tries or how well he does, he will never be good enough (for his father’s expectations, likely) and fears deep down that no one could ever love him because of his flaws.
How have you characterized or added quirks to the character?
One thing I have done is played with the of breaking the fourth wall as part of Faustus’ inner dialogue. A soliloquy directed at an audience is certainly in no way uncommon in a play, but in Faustus’ case I treat the audience as yet another personality in his already crowded head. Since he often speaks of himself in the third person, I’ve used that as a way to kind of have him detach from the situation and almost buddy up with his imaginary friend. Finally, because he can’t resist an opportunity to feel superior to everyone (including–in this case–even himself), I am delivering some of the internal monologue as condescending remarks, particularly when he is translating or explaining things.
What has been the hardest thing to do in preparing this role?
Probably trying to identify and explore the humor between the lines to break up the emotional seriousness of the play without losing it entirely. On the surface, the Faustus scenes are decidedly heavy and unfunny. Since our version of the play cuts most of the Robin/Rafe scenes and the Clown, Vintner, Horse Courser and other characters entirely, I needed to really mine the remainder for potential moments of levity so the audience wasn’t stuck feeling the same emotion for 90 minutes. This was a very difficult line to walk because I didn’t want to deteriorate the weight of his decisions or their consequences, or make the play feel in any way flippant. Then, at the end of the day making a decision to be funny is one thing, but actually making people laugh is one of the toughest challenges of all, and since the text is static, this has to come from very precise timing, emphasis, facial expressions, body language, etc.
What have you enjoyed?
More than anything I have enjoyed working with the rest of the cast and crew. Everyone in this troupe is so humble and supportive of one another. In particular, working with the scene director Victoria has been especially pleasant. She has been so collaborative with me; together we have had so many epiphanies about the character and tone of the play that we have really found some special moments together. We have texted each other constantly throughout the production lobbing ideas at each other, and then during scenes one of us might say, “I know you felt strongly about doing this scene like x, but can we try it like y?” and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but we never hurt each others’ feelings and it often leads to “z”, an even better version that came from simply stopping to think about things from a different direction.
How did you become a part of The Baron’s Men?
I had been volunteering with Haunted Trails since ’98 and then Scare for a Cure since ’09, both also Richard Garriott-sponsored, the latter even performed on the same property for a few years. Eventually I went to see some fellow HT/Scare members in a Baron’s Men performance of Spanish Tragedy, which was excellent. My wife Charlene suggested I should try out for their next play, Lysistrata, so I did. The director (Lindsay Palinsky) cast me and I immediately enjoyed it.
Acting in the haunted houses was a lot of fun to do, and were for a great cause, but I felt like I needed the opportunity to grow as an actor and step outside of my comfort zone. This is now my fourth play with TBM, this being my first in a lead role, and as a sharer (a full member of the troupe) and I’m so glad my wife gave me that push to believe in myself and give it a shot.
Are there any other things you would like to add?
I have spent so much time thinking about and working on this play I just hope I can do it justice and live up to my own very high expectations. The indicator that I have done that will be that the audience will be able to relate to the subtle quirks driving Faustus (and all of us) and not just get the message he was a power-hungry jerk who learned some spells and went to Hell for it. Being empathetic towards him will seem uncomfortable and dirty unless I can really draw on our shared thoughts and experiences. So ultimately I want to connect with people in a very unconventional way.