"Bah, humbug!" It's a phrase all of us recognize, and when we hear it, it can only mean Scrooge—the crotchety, bitter old curmudgeon who undergoes an overnight transformation from miser to man of honor. Indeed, the word "scrooge" is the antithesis of generosity, love, charity, and all the other holiday warm-and-fuzzies. But at its core, it contains a spark of hope: even the most lost among us can find their way home with a little Christmas spirit (or three).
Theatreworks is thrilled to present its most recent iteration of Dickens' classic Christmas Carol as adapted by Murray Ross. We are equally thrilled to present Lisa Wolpe as Scrooge. A seasoned Shakespearean actor who frequently plays male characters, Lisa spent a few minutes chatting with us about her background in theater, what it's like to fill male theatrical roles, and more. Read on, but don't forget... tickets for this unforgettable show won't last long. Secure your seats today.
Lisa Wolpe: I was born in Palo Alto, CA—my father taught French Literature at Stanford University, and my mother was his student!
TW: Home now?
LW:I live in Santa Monica, California, about five minutes from the beach.
TW: Can you tell us about your training/background?
LW: As an undergrad at the University of California, San Diego, I trained under Alan Schneider in Directing and studied and performed with the grads. I went to New York City for twelve years and did original work and clowning, and did a great deal of training, performing, and teaching at Shakespeare & Co. with Tina Packer and Kristin Linklater. I opened my own all-female, multicultural theater company, The Los Angeles Women's Shakespeare Company, and was Producing Artistic Director there for 23 years. I closed it in 2016 and have been working internationally on cross-gender classical theater pieces, and touring my solo show, Shakespeare and the Alchemy of Gender.
TW: Who are your theatre idols?
LW: I suppose I'd say Janet McTeer, Judi Dench, and Diana Rigg for strong classical actresses.
TW: How did you start playing gender-flipping roles and why are they important?
LW: The first male role I played was Malvolio—I was about twenty, and we were exploring Shakespeare in a masterclass in New York City with my mentor, Natsuko Ohama. I've been doing it ever since. The male roles are juicier, they offer interesting texts and more dramatic action, and of course there are more Equity contracts for male roles: just more work all around to choose from. A lot of the roles that have been written for women to play are wife, girlfriend, victim, or whore, and those stereotypes get old quickly. Fortunately, lots of new writing abounds, and we are working toward gender equity and equal pay for all who work in the American theater.
TW: What’s your perspective on Scrooge? What challenges does his character present?
LW: I have to admit, I've never seen A Christmas Carol onstage and I've never been in it, unlike all of my professional actor friends who seem to have done it fifteen times. I saw the movie when I was a kid. It's a bit spooky wading into such a dense story for the first time when everyone around me knows it by heart, but I love it and we shall see where this all lands. We have many, many little moments to create. We have a great cast and a fabulous director, and our first week has been a wonderful adventure!
TW: What was your favorite male role and favorite female role? What made these roles stand out to you?
LW: My favorite male roles have been Hamlet (I played him twice), Iago (I am about to play him for the third time), and Richard III (I've played him three times). They are all very smart and very wicked in many ways. Rosalind was my first female Shakespeare role, and I just loved doing it—I think it will always be my favorite. And yes, if you haven't noticed, I can't get enough Shakespeare.
TW: What stands out to you when taking on the perspective of a male character?
LW: An actress playing a man gets to play a wider bandwidth of understanding and intelligence, and wield wit and weapons and sociopolitical power. And, of course, the male characters tend to get lots and lots of stage time, so you can build more complexity by showing growth or depth over time. The male characters usually get 80% of the lines, so there is more expression than there would be for a typical ingenue. The female character just doesn't have as much power or wordplay or swordplay or fun. The male physicality is direct and dynamic, and there is an element of performance on every level that tries to deny personal weakness. Somewhere during the arc of the play the characters discover their frailties and either triumph over obstacles or come to some kind of reckoning with their flaws. The roles are usually written by men, about men, for men to play. There is a lot of passionate material about the "hero's journey," and the male stories dominate the plays.
TW: Dream role?
LW: This summer I will direct myself as Richard II at RADA in London, and subsequently remount the show at the Prague Shakespeare Company. I'm pretty excited about that!
Stay tuned for more Q&As, and be sure to check out UCCS Associate Professor of Theater Max Shulman's interview with A Christmas Carol director Caitlin Lowans (who, as it so happens, joined Theatreworks as Artistic Director this August). She expands on what makes the play so special and on her creative vision in casting Lisa to play Scrooge.