‘Wild, passionate, relentless, and hungry hearted.’ That’s how stage sizzler Moya O’Connell describes her character, Ellida, in Erin Shield’s adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s The Lady Of The Sea on stage at the Court House Theatre in Niagara-on-the-Lake until September 13, 2015.
With the playwright shaping a lean, spare and poetic world from the funny and deeply moving text, the adept actor ups her performance game in this entertaining examination of marriage and the longings that exist outside the arrangement.
It’s hard to imagine Moya O’Connell lighting up the theatre anywhere but the Shaw Festival. Her fascination with the immediacy, proximity, and danger of the storytelling journey always leaves audiences walking away from the theatre more enlightened than when they walked in.
▓ I ▓ N ▓ T ▓ E ▓ R ▓ V ▓ I ▓ E ▓ W ▓
What fascinates you most about the acting craft?
It’s incredibly fun.
I go to work and each play is a wholly different experience than the last. I join forces with a group of artists and we come up with a way of telling that story that we hope will move and thrill an audience.
And those people become your friends and your family. You fall in love with each other like a band. It’s silly, it’s profound and ultimately it’s useless, which, of course, makes it essential.
Is acting an art that anyone can succeed at with training or are there natural traits one must possess to excel in this discipline?
I think you must be foolish to act. You must consider yourself both deadly serious about life but also have a large sense of the absurd nature of your own humanity.
Can anyone act? Yes, I suppose so. We all do as children.
But the choice to be an actor or an artist means you have to be ok with not living a middle class life. You have to be a bit of a chancer to take on the thrill and the risk of a life as an artist. It’s not for the faint of heart.
Marlon Brando once stated that acting is the expression of a “neurotic impulse.” Do you believe this to be true?
I don’t discount his claim but have a hard time understanding that point of reference.
Acting is a very odd thing to do with one’s time and energy. It’s learning lines, putting on a costume and pretending to be someone else. I don’t think that there can be any doubt about that. It’s very weird.
What is acting? Ask me again in 10 years.
Who is more important to a production—the actor or director?
I don’t know that they can exist in isolation from one another. Ultimately, they can, of course, but I don’t know that they would do so successfully.
What I can say without exception is that when you work with a great director you have a cohesive company and vision. You need to know the world you are occupying and ensure that everyone is in the same play.
Without a strong director a company can become divisive and scared. We can fret and second guess and turn on each other.
In my very humble opinion a great director creates cohesion and vision but also gives the actors the freedom to carve out their own creation.
When you flip through a script searching for a character that you may audition for, what criteria catches your eye?
It’s my gut that always knows whether it will be a good fit for me or not.
If I read a script and find one or two entry points, places that resonate with my soul or guts as a human being or a mainline to their humanity, I know I can tackle it.
[The characters] don’t have to be ‘nice’ or ‘likeable’ but I have to understand something about their journey through a story and it has to shift something within me.
Tell me about a role that you played where something went horribly/laughably wrong on stage but you/cast covered up the best you could.
For some reason I seem to have an inordinate amount of these stories. It has become a sort of joke among my performance peers to recount all the truly ridiculous things that have occurred throughout the years.
A few years ago I was playing a part where I wore a sort of headdress during a certain scene. I looked a bit like Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean. You know, big bandana, massive dreadlocks…the whole thing.
Maybe I was particularly vigorous with my dance moves on this fateful day but during a particular number, I threw my head back my entire wig/headdress flew in a beautiful arc about three feet in the air and landed on the stage at the foot of my co-star.
I collapsed in a puddle of humiliation and uncontrollable laughter and crawled to retrieve it before heading off stage and into the wings.
I don’t think I ever laughed as hard as that.
What stage actor ranks high on your list of all-time favourites?
Well, right now my favorite actor is my co-star Ric Reid. He plays my husband, Wangel, in The Lady from the Sea.
I have admired Ric’s acting for many years but this is the first time I have worked closely with him. He is extremely alive and available and subtle. He teaches me a great deal about the art and craft of acting when I am with him on stage.
But the late Douglas Campbell was the best actor I have ever seen. His life force and wit was immense. His Falstaff was a perfect creation. He was the best listener I have ever witnessed. He was straight up magic.
What do you think the secret is to longevity in this business?
I think the secret to longevity in any business is working incredibly hard. I haven’t come across an artist, a restaurateur, an entrepreneur, a designer or a business person who gets by on luck and talent alone.
However, theatre is a unique art form because it is collaborative so yes, you have to work hard but you also have to be easy to work with. And those things aren’t often compatible.
Beatrice in Much Ado about Nothing might be the part you dream about playing above all others. And then you might one day find yourself cast in said role, but the director has set it on the moon with a Benedick you cannot bear.
You have to roll with it, baby. And be joyous and open to the possibilities of magic in other people’s minds. You have to be malleable, open and ready to change.
Joy. That is the secret. At least for me.