Thursday, February 4, 2016

Women on Shakespeare: Lilly Englert as Marina

Since most Shakespearean casts are male-heavy (and some are male-only), coverage tends to focus on men who create the work. Let's balance that out! This is #5 in my interview series, Women on Shakespeare. I'm talking with the women who produce and perform Shak and related work.

For her professional debut in 2014, Lilly Englert was cast by Julie Taymor as one of the lovers of A Midsummer Night's Dream. The next season she was Cordelia to Michael Pennington's Lear. This month, she'll pick up a hat trick, playing Marina in Trevor Nunn's Pericles. The three shows, all at Theater for a New Audience, have put the young actor in contact with top Shakespeare talent. Englert shared her views with me over email.

Have you seen or performed in Pericles before?

I actually never felt compelled to read the play before I auditioned for Marina, given the unknown authorship of the first two acts. However, after I have dug into the roll, I have fallen in love with the story and wonder why it isn’t done more often. I think it is a brilliant journey filled with hope. I believe it is that sense of hope that drives the play.

What can you tell us about the role of Marina?

Marina is Pericles and Thaisa’s daughter, who like her father goes on a rich and often terrifying journey. Life keeps throwing challenges Marina’s way but she never gives up. Marina thinks there is a chance her father could be alive, and using her intelligence and creativity, gets herself out of many difficult situations. Marina is driven by hope.

As an actor, how do you make her into a full-dimensioned woman?

I think when you invest time in a character and have a good director they become full- dimensioned people because that is what we are. Marina is often described as being 'pure' and 'good'. She is that, but if she was only pure and good, I think it would be a pretty uninteresting performance. She is also incredibly smart and articulate with a vivid imagination. She is deeply connected to nature and to the Gods. She is a fighter like her father. She can be depressed and snap like every other person in the world. She experiences overwhelming joy and sadness. She has a gift, but that is not being 'angelic and pure', [it's] being able to affect people through language. And she does that in many different ways.

A few seasons ago, NYC audiences saw you play Cordelia, another ‘good’ daughter of a king. What connections have you drawn between that role and Marina?

I never thought of Cordelia as being a "good" daughter of a king. My mentor once told me "Cordelia is a revolutionary and her weapon is love." That has really stuck with me. In the opening scene she is challenging her father with new ideas. Cordelia isn’t driven by emotion; she loves her father deeply but also has a strong sense of herself and her values.

Marina for most of the play is an orphan, living with the hope that her father is maybe alive. She also has a inner strength and strong sense of herself and morality. Both Marina and Cordelia go through a challenging journey to the be reunited with their fathers. They are both very articulate woman with a strong sense of right and wrong.

How about comparing Marina with Hermia — a much earlier, comedic role in Shakespeare’s career?

I think Hermia, like Marina and Cordelia, has a wonderful inner strength. From the first scene she defies her father, publicly saying she wants to marry Lysander. That is a very courageous thing to do. She runs away and throughout the whole play never gives up on being with the man she loves. She is by no means any less complex than Cordelia or Marina.

Do you believe training is necessary to play Shakespeare?

I don’t know if training is necessary for everyone to play Shakespeare but I know it was for me. I think you need to have an understanding of the rhythm and the 'rules' to then be able to break them.

You’ve now worked with a few top-notch Shakespearean directors. How would you contrast Trevor Nunn’s approach to staging with Julie Taymor’s?

I feel extremely fortunate to have worked with wonderful directors who all have a different approach to Shakespeare. Julie Taymor sees the world in such a creative way and has a very vivid imagination. She was enthusiastic about making Shakespeare sound 'real', which I loved and can really connect to. She didn’t want us to over-act because we were speaking heightened language. Julie spent a lot of time helping us with the way our characters moved and how that influenced the text. Every gesture was so specific and that allowed me to understand much more about Hermia. Julie is an artist who sees the world in magical way, like no one I have ever meet before.

Trevor Nunn’s approach has been to start with a deep understanding of the text and the play and his creativity comes from that. He is so specific with language and I feel very fortunate to be working with him.

Do you have any particular Shakespearean roles you’d love to perform?

I have wanted to play Juliet since I was 18 and that is still the top of the list. I work on her in my spare time just because I love the role so much. I would also love to play Ophelia.

Any dream-roles traditionally played by men?

At the moment I don’t feel drawn to playing roles traditionally played by men because there are so many great female roles I want to play. I am very passionate about Shakespeare and in my career I want to play as many parts as possible.

Shakespeare’s plays have some­ — let’s say ‘problematic’ — roles for modern women. In this show, he gets comedic mileage from pitching a chaste girl into a brothel. Is there any friction between his 16th-century notion of women with your 21st-century views?

I think the fact that a chaste girl gets sold into a brothel is utterly relevant to today's society. In many countries young girls are still being sold to slavery and prostitution and a play like Pericles brings that issue to the surface.


Theatre for a New Audience's Pericles runs from Feb 14 to Mar 27 at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center in Fort Greene.

photo 1  Lilly Englert
photo 2  Englert with Michael Pennington in TFANA's King Lear
photo 3  Englert with Zach Appelman & Jake Horowitz in TFANA's Midsummer

credits (2 & 3)  Carol Rosegg

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