10 questions: Shaun McComb

1) What the fuck is going on?
“What the fuck is with the Yorkshire dialect?” is what I want to know. It is as hard to pin down . . . I am cramming at the moment trying to get my mouth around this dialect for my first rehearsal of The Secret Garden on Tuesday. I am playing a twelve-year-old earthy boy named Dickon. Come on – it’s not much of a stretch is it?

2) What’s the best thing about your upcoming Toronto Fringe show Rum and Vodka?
Besides the script being a tight little number and such a pleasure to work with I would have to say that Matt Gorman is the best thing. If he wasn’t the best thing, we’d all be fucked. Rum and Vodka, being a one man show, there isn’t much else to rely on other than that sorry sucker who is up there talking for an hour. Matt is a very honest actor; not only is he honest when he speaks but he is honest with his process as an actor. He never tries to fake anything he is not.

3) Do you have any unifying theories about directing that you’re bringing to this production?
In the program for Rum and Vodka I wrote a little something about directing for the first time. I wrote something like “good directing is hard to pin down but bad directing is easy to nail.” The more I think about theatre, the more I realize how open to adapting you must be. You are the boss as director and your troops are always changing, so as a director you must adapt to the army that you are given. Some troops are good at digging trenches and some troops are good at killing the enemy, but you always have to be sensitive to the actors’ strengths and weaknesses and make sure they are in a place to explore both.

A director is only as good as his actors are, and the actors are only as good as the rehearsal environment allows them to be. It is the job of the director to put the actors in the best possible rehearsal situation so that they can feel free to explore all of the good, bad, beautiful, and ugly without consequence or judgment. I have been in rehearsal with many directors that I think wish they were directing puppets. They want the players to only live out what is in their head.

Lives are here in the room with you, use them, you know; that’s perhaps my theory about directing.

4) What’s one of your fondest memories from your time as an actor at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival?
I was doing As You Like It, which was an amazing experience on its own as I was the guitar player for the music which was written by the Barenaked Ladies. And say what you will about the band but they are a bunch of blue-collar dudes that are just happy to be where they are. An example: We were at a media release party and I was interviewed numerous times answering the most asinine questions possible like, “what kind of underwear do you wear?”, etc. I couldn’t help the bewilderment. I went up to Jim Creeggan, who is the bass player for the band, and asked him how he put up with it, and he had the most fantastic answer: “If we put up with this for an hour or so a week, we get to make music for a living.” Jesus, that put things into perspective.

Well anyway, I was also the understudy for Touchstone for that production. So one student matinée just before Dan Chameroy (he was playing Amiens, the singer) and I were about to go on for our first song, Nora Polley, the stage manager, leaned in and said “Stephen Ouimette is losing his voice, you’re probably going to be on for act two.”

So for Touchstone all the fun bits are in Shakespeare’s act three and on. I mean I was operating in understudy mode: “just get through it, keep the show going,” but it was exhilarating. It was an amazing feeling.

The show ended, and although I had done a bit of fake-speare throughout, forgetting this line here of there, it was very fun. Curtain call came, and this is the dream quality of it . . . when I came running out onto that magnificent Festival Stage and 900 kids stood up to clap I nearly fell over.

5) What is the Toronto Shakespeare Company?
The Toronto Shakespeare Company is a large initiative that I have begun to put into swing, which begins in September with the formation of the Young Company, in which I will be working with grade 11 and 12 students who are interested in attending theatre school in the future or who are just interested in acting Shakespeare.

One of the many things that I think Toronto lacks is a resident Shakespeare company. There are so many fantastic actors in this city that are classically trained that are working joe jobs and going out for Molson commercials, and I believe that classical work could be produced in this city that could compare to other international companies, even within a shoestring budget. The problem with this city’s view of Shakespeare is either you go to Stratford and spend the mega bucks or you bring a bottle of wine to the park and listen to half the play while you neck with your fiancée.

On the other hand, one of the questions that I have tossed around is whether or not people really give a shit about Shakespeare at all. I don’t know. Has Shakespeare simply become the actor’s indulgence? I don’t believe so. The other night, watching the CBC Othello, listened to my father in law go from saying “Shakespeare is dull . . . ” to “did he really just kill her!? No way!” The plays are good, and most major cultural centres have a resident Shakespeare company for a reason. Why don’t we?

Unfortunately, with the nature of funding these days (’nuff said), I must begin this initiative from the educational level on up with the advent of the Toronto Shakespeare Young Company. I enjoy teaching very much, and am looking forward to proving that working on Shakespeare can not only address the most deep concerns in regards to acting but can also help young adults learn to step forth with communicative confidence.

There is much to be said about the Toronto Shakespeare Company and if you are interested in supporting the initiative in any way please email me.

6) Why Shakespeare?
I fancy Shakespeare. I think if you get out of the way, Shakespeare can teach you how to act. The clues to acting Shakespeare are not to be applied, they are to strip.

7) What did you learn from working with Ed Norton and William Hurt on the film The Incredible Hulk?
I don’t want any misconceptions here, I didn’t do much in the Incredible Hulk, it was my first time on a film set ever. I think that was what was shocking above all because it was a huge production with sometimes up to seven camera crews all shooting at the same time.

Of my days on that show, I was only on set with Tim Roth twice. Ed Norton is a fantastic actor, and William Hurt was one the actors that I grew up idolizing, but Tim Roth was by far the most inspirational, he never took anything seriously, yet when you would watch the play back he was the most complex in the face. It is always a game of make believe, whether you’re on a $75 million set or whether you are putting up Stranger for $10 grand, your job never changes, you are making believe. And I felt for Tim he was just having a gas being mean and shooting the guns.

What did I learn? I don’t know, perhaps no matter how big the production, your job is the same.

8) What are some of the questions that are on your mind these days?
“Is constantly questioning everything a waste of time?”
“If I stop questioning will I ever learn anything?”
That might sound pretentious . . . but it’s not meant to be.

9) How do you feel about the current state of theatre criticism in Toronto?
Criticism is difficult to pin down. I have opinions all the time that my colleagues and friends fight me on, and I enjoy the fight, it is a discussion that is sometimes just as valid the piece of theatre that you are discussing. The problem with the printed criticism is that it makes conclusions and cancels out the possibility of discussion . . . I guess that is why I find printed theatre criticism a joke and laugh at how seriously it is taken.

We all have opinions and sometimes, say, after I listen to an album a couple of times and then listen to others’ opinions, my tone changes from ‘rubbish’ to ‘brilliant,’ and what’s great about the true nature of criticism is that it is cell splitting. I have never been in a show that I thought was ‘good’, and I feel that even if I said so I would be putting myself in the dangerous territory of ‘preciousness,’ and thus closing myself off to the more important, which is the theatre of discussion.

I, at one time, worked with Shirley Douglas who had very strong opinions of theatre criticism in this country. She felt that theatre critics played a more than important role in the future of Canadian Theatre and have the power to shape the arts funding of this country and to increase the tourism industry of this city. If they praise, then the government will believe there is something worth investing in, and then the people will come and the ripple effect will start to wave and cash will be spent, making this city the arts mecca that it deserves to be. But critics must do their job and print their opinions. And I mean come on, who wants to read glowing as opposed to cutting – cutting is a much better read, it’s much better theatre.

Perhaps Ms. Doulgas is right. But as printed critics, they are paid for their opinions, and yet no one is paid to believe them . . . so they are doing their job but are we doing ours?

10) As an actor, what are you better at now than you were two years ago?
In auditions, I am better at trying not to be the person I think they want to see, and just being me. Fuck it, you know. If you don’t think I am interesting then they can go about their business and I’ll go about mine. I work hard and I respect that, I shouldn’t expect others to respect the same things I do.

I think the best thing that I have learned as an actor is that acting really doesn’t mean that much. The best thing about acting is that you can easily walk away from it any time you want and that someone else is always waiting right behind you. Acting is safe in that way.

5 thoughts on “10 questions: Shaun McComb

  1. Great Interview Shaun!

    “I think if you get out of the way, Shakespeare can teach you how to act.”

    Very well said!

  2. you sound very at peace with your choices and opinions and it gives me a sense of peace to know you are pursuing what you love and that you are passionate about it. i love that you aren’t precious about your work or your opinions. it’s giving me lots to think about and i feel excited about what you are up to. i feel really blessed to work with you and know you a little better after this interview. keep going! you rock!

  3. How meta is this interview after yesterday’s comments marathon? Great stuff, Blogfather.

    Shaun – have you had much interest from the Grade 11 and 12s out there in a Shakespeare action program? Are they being influenced towards it by their schools?

  4. Nice Interview McComb & Congrats on the Rum and Vodka Review. Stranger is going to cost a lot more that 10 Grand btw.

  5. Wow, upon re-reading I am a serious name dropper….
    that’s not cool.
    Thanks dudes.

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