You may recognize this handsome leading man from the revival of The Color Purple on Broadway; regional theater productions of Dream Girls, Smokey Joe’s Café, and Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo; or on television in season 6 of “American Idol” or “Friday Night Lights.”
I was fortunate enough to meet Akron Watson after a performance of the hilarious farce The Play That Goes Wrong, in which he plays Trevor, the distracted sound and lighting operator mildly obsessed with Duran Duran. The guard at the stage door warned me that only a few of the actors would be coming out; most were either “getting food or physical therapy,” much-needed recovery after a physically demanding show. Akron emerged buoyant and unscathed and was kind enough to answer my questions about memorization and character.
Brent: Thanks for talking with me, Akron! What makes learning a role for The Play That Goes Wrong more challenging than for other shows you've been in?
Akron: Nothing. It's still the same job. Knowing your lines, knowing your cues, and knowing what you want from the lines—the reasons and intention behind them.
Brent: What specific training do you draw on for this play, in which professional actors are playing amateur actors playing stock characters?
Akron: Clown. In rehearsals we were taught and trained about two types of clowns: Whiteface, the serious smart clown, and Auguste, the clumsy joking buffoon. All the characters in our show are different versions of these clowns. So we improv-ed with that in mind.
Brent: Knowing that helps me see the characters in a clearer way. What can you share about the dynamics of the ensemble?
Akron: We play it seriously. We don't try to be funny or make fun of ourselves. The comedy comes from the pain and anguish we experience trying to get it right.
Brent: Yes, it is one calamity after another. Actors convincingly blank on their lines, miss cues, get knocked out, or need to navigate around breaking props and collapsing sets.
Akron: The goal is to get it right every night, which makes it funnier that it always goes wrong.
Brent: I teach college communications courses and find that students are often resistant to memorization. What advice do you have for students who need to memorize a script or speech?
Akron: Underline the verbs and make them sound different than all the other words. Speak the speech with the sound of the verbs heightened. Eventually that will create a rhythm that your brain will latch onto. It's also fun.
Brent: Right, verbs are the action words and deserve heightened emphasis. In fact, the first speech I assign in class requires each student to identify three verbs that reflect his or her passion and develop them into a talk. What else do you recommend?
Akron: Speak the speech in different environments: in an elevator, on the phone, at the grocery store, on the toilet, at the park. Also writing it down with your own handwriting helps.
Brent: Absolutely. Physical reinforcement is the best.
Akron: The point is, get them off the page and into your body.
Brent: Wonderful advice! Thanks so much for your time, Akron. I really appreciate your sharing your knowledge. Keep breaking legs!
Akron: Thanks for coming to the show!