Camelot Theatre Company's musical "Jekyll & Hyde" opens this week and features exquisite choreography by Renee Hewitt. An exceptional actress, dancer and singer, Hewitt has played numerous iconic roles throughout her career. We met in the Excalibur Room at the Camelot.
EH: Why have you spent your life in theater?
RH: It's my passion. That's the only way I can explain it. If I were to have to live without it, I don't know what I would do. It's how I express my soul; it's how I express the deepest parts of me. I'm finding out now, that not only can I do that by being on stage, I can actually do that through choreography. I'm more anxious, more nervous, and more excited about this opening than I am when I'm a performer.
EH: Why is being a choreographer more exciting than being on stage?
RH: You actually get to create something, and you see what was in your head. I build the bones and I build the structure, but the cast comes in and puts flesh on it, and they put a heart to it. That's what is so thrilling, to actually see it be embodied by somebody and see it come to life. And the adventure is, does it work, or doesn't it? And sometimes it doesn't, so we have to change it. That is why it's so thrilling, and why it's different.
When you're an actor, you've been given a foundation, and you create a character. But, because you're embodying the character, you don't see the whole picture. As the creator, you're looking at the whole picture. It's just a different kind of thrilling. I guess I love being able to create something, and then let it go, and see it live on its own, have its own life.
EH: How does an actor embody a character?
RH: You have to know who, what, why, where and when. You have to know what you want in every scene. That's how you start: "What do I want? What am I going to do to get it? Do my tactics change?" You need to do that for every scene. Emotionally, I delve deep into the character. I journal, as the character; I fill in all of the time that doesn't exist in the script. I love it because you can make up anything you want. As the character, you have to know your history and your emotional history. You have to be specific with your history and your past, because that informs how you perform in the moment. If you do all of that homework, when you get on stage with your fellow actor, you let it go. Then it just becomes acting and reacting in the moment.
EH: Tell me about the Camelot Theatre Company.
RH: There's a really good vibe here. Livia Genise pretty much sets that. It always comes from the top down. She sets that tone of respect for one another, that it's an entire collaborative process. It's not one person's show. It never is.
When you're an actor, the most important person on stage is always the other actor. It's never you. You wouldn't be seen, if you didn't have lights. You wouldn't be heard, if you didn't have sound. And the world wouldn't be, if you didn't have set design or costumes. One part doesn't work without the other. Each person puts their own creative stamp on it, so there's individuality, but there's community at the same time.
"Jekyll & Hyde," starring Robin Downward and directed by Livia Genise, plays June 19 through July 21. For tickets and information, call 541-535-5250.
Evalyn Hansen is a writer and director living in Ashland. She trained as an actor at the American Conservatory Theatre and is a founding member of San Francisco's Magic Theatre. Reach her at email@example.com.