is the grass any bluer...

is the grass any bluer...
on the other side?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Dmetrius Conley-Williams' Richard III: Man For All Seasons

Demetrius told me that
although most of his life,
he saw himself as an actor,
after 9/11, his sister's
illness and his return to
Lexington to be with his
family, he realized he's
much more than actor.
"My most important role
in life is as a brother, a
son, a friend, an uncle...
those are the most
important relationships."

With July the Fourth just a sparkly memory, it's great to have something to look forward to over the coming weeks.  


First up, I've had the chance to catch up with Dmetrius Conley-Williams, who  takes the stage as Richard III this Wednesday in SummerFest's first offering of the season.  


According to Dmetrius, he will be just as interested as the outcome of the play as the audience.  Every performance is different, he tells me, and he has absolutely no idea how any of it will turn out...but after brushing up on his Shakespeare for quite a few years, nobody is more capable of limping into the limelight and illuminating all the facets of Richard III.

Truth be told, Dmetrius seems to revel in the surprises that happen on-stage, and his enthusiasm over what he does best, performing on the stage, is as contagious as his laughter.


In speaking with him, I learned that in his eyes, theatre - and art in general - is at its best when it is inconsistent.  Dmetrius seems to revel in the unexpected, the unknown -- in fact, he is most comfortable when there is chaos in the air.  "I'm still discovering what I'm doing, but that's my role as an actor.  An actor finds new things in every show -- opening night will be totally different from the closing performance."  
Dmetrius and Tim Hull -- the two have
known each other since childhood,
roomed together in New York, and are
still close to this day. They'll be sharing
the stage tomorrow night in Richard III


I talked with him a few weeks ago when many of the particulars of the play were still being sewn up -- literally.  No costumes had yet been revealed to him ("I don't even have my hump yet!") -- and he was still unsure as to how he would play a cripple, a man with a deformity.  However, the uncertainty surrounding the opening act of SummerFest's triumvirate of theatrical treats was somehow keeping him in his performance mode, enthusiastic and optimistic more than I've ever seen an actor.  He spoke of his craft in a way that had an air of devotion and dedication, he wasn't guarded at all (we're pretty good pals anyway), but he did leave me with a sense of mystery and intrigue over just exactly how Richard III would all come together on its opening night tomorrow at the Arboretum.


Rather than bore you with my musings, I'm going to share some of his thoughts as they came to me, written down in my barely legible handwriting, which yes, had something to do with the margaritas we were imbibing, but also had to do with his energy and effervescent attitude about his lead role in Shakespeare's tale of woe and foe.


Asked about how he thought the show was coming together, he confessed, "I'm worried...I'm worried about a lot of aspects of the show -- the total show, everybody's part, from my scene partners down to the props...but if you're a lead actor, and you're not worried, then something is wrong."  


I've seen him act, I've had many chats with him, and I consider him a friend and confidante, however, I've never seen Dmetrius in pre-performance mode before.  When he talks about theatre, he sees everything from the perspective of an actor, an exuberant view mixed with concern and optimism from a fellow who has seen a lot of the world from the stage.  His experience goes back to his beginnings at Bryan Station High School, and winds an artistic path through Harvard, New York City, Moscow, England -- even taking a class from David Mamet at one time.   


However, my first experience seeing Dmetrius in a performance was at last year's Midway Play Festival, where he and Emanuel Wright played two men on death row.  Even in that short play, his command of the art of acting drew the audience in and gave the script life, humor, sadness, kindness, vulnerability -- all facets that he intends to bring to Richard III.  He is interested in showing more than the evil inherent in the character, and is intrigued about the woman's intuition factor.  "The women in this play know who Richard is, but the men do not, because I think they see him just as a cripple...the women see him as much more than that."


When I asked him how he was going to play a cripple, he laughed, "I'm going to be as surprised on opening night as the audience!"  


How does he feel about playing the same scene with different actors?  That is your talent, to be able to act is to be open to everyone who is your scene partner, that's the gift: open yourself up enough to be affected, to allow someone to affect you...you have to be like an open vessel." 


D tells me he is really happy to be performing with some of his friends with whom he worked before going to Harvard, like Tim Hull (who he's known since the 5th grade), who plays his co-conspirator.  "I call him, in the play, 'my other self,' and I'm also enjoying acting with Robert Parks Johnson, and director Sidney Shaw."  


He credits his high school teacher, Lois Kaiser, as encouraging him in his career as an actor, although at first he didn't take her seriously. "I was the worst-behaved kid when I was in school...but after a while, competing in, and winning speech meets, I realized that acting and performing were keeping me out of trouble, and that maybe Ms. Kaiser was right after all...that's when I considered acting as a career."


In this unique version of Richard III, set in Brazil during Carnivale, Dmetrius doesn't consider the updated setting as a challenge as much as the playwright's work, even though he's tickled that Shakespeare's writing gives Richard what he calls "all of the four Seasons!"  However, he believes the most difficult part of doing Shakespeare is that he learned from teachers who are a bit tricky to duplicate.  "My biggest fault as an actor is, as far as Shakespeare is concerned, I think I have a tendency to do it too fast . . . and that is because of my teachers at Harvard. They were all old British men, they would rattle it off so fast -- and you didn't understand it, but they were still just so good...I have to remind myself I'm not an Englishman, and I have to slow down!"  


He says his most pivotal role was as Aaron in Titus Andronicus 3 years ago during the Shakespeare Project in Boston.  "We only had a month and a half to rehearse, and it was done in an old parking lot, but it was wonderful."  Years ago, he played Oberon opposite the feisty and fierce Donna Ison in Shakespeare in the Park's production of Midsummer Night's Dream at Woodland Park.  After he was cast, Ison told him, "they had to cast you in the role, you were the only one who could handle me!"  Knowing both Donna and Dmetrius, I would have to agree.  They're both wickedly entertaining, and on stage, they are two performers not to be ignored.  


As one of the area's most seasoned and talented actors, Dmetrius can handle this Richard III role as well, I'm sure.  It opens tomorrow night at the arboretum...so grab a few blankets, some bug-away juice (because Mother Nature will have her way with you, trust me, her little critters love Summer Fest), and put together some snacks and libations for the evening under the stars.  It runs through Sunday, and if the weather holds out, it will be a memorable time for the actors and the audience as Kentucky Conservatory Theatre does its annual thing and brings the works of great writers to the stage for your viewing pleasure. 






Here's just a smattering of Dmetrius Conley-Williams' background:

Lexington Childrens Theatre (where he was taught by Joe Gatton)

Youth Performing Arts School in Louisville, including To Kill A Mockingbird

New York City - Classical Stage Company on East 13th Street

Institute at Harvard, B.A. degree

Moscow Art Theatre - M.F.A.

Worked in England, Russia, but mainly at the American Repertory Theatre at Harvard University, company member there for 3 years.

Dmetrius also tells me that he's "grateful God has blessed us with good weather. We're just hoping it will be that pretty on opening night."  

When asked who was going to steal the show, he was quick to say, "The young people are going to steal the show, the young ensemble!"


Oh, and does Dmetrius have a secret?  


Why of course he does:  


"I just love to watch Judge Judy!" he exclaims.  







*********************************************

RICHARD III --  Join in the fun and attend SummerFest's season opener directed by Sidney Shaw.   Set in Rio de Janiero - this tale of cruelty, villainy and murder is set against the color and frenzy of Carnivale.

www.summerfestlex.org or 866-811-4111 for tickets!

At the Arboretum - 7pm! 


*************************************



Get ready for SummerFest 2011

SummerFest PosterKentucky Conservatory Theatre (formerly KCTC) is proud to present a “monstrous” season for SummerFest 2011

The season opener is William Shakespeare’s Richard III directed by Sidney Shaw, July 6-10.  The second production brings Artistic Director Joe Ferrell back to directing with the world premier production of Bo List’s new adaptation of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly’s Frankenstein, July 13-17. The SummerFest closer is The Rocky Horror Show – July 20-24 directed by Wes Nelson and music by The Johnson Brothers.  SummerFest promises to be bigger and better than ever!
All shows in the open air at








CAST LIST:    

RichardDmetrius Conley
BuckinghamTim Hull
King Edward IVWalter Tunis
ClarenceMark Smith
Queen ElizabethNieta Wigginton
Rivers (Dorset,Gray)Nick Swarts
Lady AnneHolly Brady
Duchess of YorkTonda-Leah Fields
Queen MargaretBianca Spriggs
Edward Prince of WalesCody Taylor
Young ElizabethHarper Toney
TyrrelBob Singleton
RichmondAndrew Jay Williams
HastingsRobert Parks Johnson
Brakenbury/KeeperEric Seale
2nd Murder/Catesby/LovelJeremy Gillett
1st Murder/RatcliffMeredith Crutcher
Young York/Company
Company
Mead Ryder
Keith Griffith











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As SummerFest begins, I want to thank all those who devote so much time and effort into bringing these works to the stage.  I am anxious and excited to see my pal Dmetrius in this role, and I know he will do his very best to make Richard III more than just a villain, he will make us love to hate him, he will make us as vulnerable as he is making Richard.  

I hope to see you at the show,
peace,
Kimmy


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