An interview with Wolf Sherrill

JMU Assistant Professor of Theatre Kevin (Wolf) J. Sherrill

JMU Assistant Professor of Theatre Kevin (Wolf) J. Sherrill won for best actor in the Central Ohio Theatre Critics Circle's 17th annual poll for the best of the 2009-2010 season.

Q: Congratulations on your win for best actor in the Central Ohio Theatre Critics Circle's 17th annual poll for the best of the 2009-2010 season! You played Mr. Darcy and Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice. How does it feel to have won best actor?

A: The news was a complete surprise to me and took a few days to sink in. After having some time to reflect on the award, I feel honored to have my work recognized by the theatre town that I grew up in. The pool of nominees included actors that I have watched and admired for many years. It is flattering to have my name included with artists that I have a great respect for.

Q: Did you win the best actor award for your performance as Mr. Darcy, Mr. Collins or both?

A: The award was for the dual role — so both characters.

Q: For those not familiar with Pride and Prejudice, who are Mr. Darcy and Mr. Collins and what do they have to do with the title of the production?

A: Mr. Darcy is an archetype of the aloof romantic hero and the love/hate interest of Elizabeth, the central character of Pride and Prejudice. The title embodies adjectives that can describe both characters — and the obstacles they must overcome to find love with one another.

Mr. Collins is a relative who is to inherit Elizabeth's family estate. He comes calling to wed a daughter, thereby keeping the estate in the immediate family. Some of my favorite adjectives used to describe Mr. Collins are "odious" and "absurd" — which I found great pleasure in exploring.

Q: What did you like best about playing Mr. Darcy?

A: The whole experience was a gift! Mr. Darcy is such a complex character. He takes a tremendous journey during the arc of Jane Austin's story. It was a wonderful challenge to mine the discoveries from the text that allow Darcy to evolve during the short time the audience spends with him. I found a stillness with him that I enjoyed inhabiting. The ensemble of actors that I had the privilege of working with in P&P made playing Darcy a true joy.

Q: What did you like least about playing Mr. Darcy?

A: Nothing at all. I loved him for his flaws and humanness.

Q: What did you like best about playing Mr. Collins?

A: Our version of Mr. Collins was a bit creepy — it is fun to have license to explore the lecherous side of things. Once I had my female cast mates shuddering, I knew I was on the right track.

Q: What did you like least about playing Mr. Collins?

A: Mr. Collins tended to walk with his pelvis jutting out — not so good for the back after awhile …

Q: Whom did you enjoy playing more? Mr. Darcy or Mr. Collins?

A: They both became very dear to me: Darcy for his gallant restraint and Collins for his bumbling attempts to woo the opposite sex.

Q: Did playing the role(s) come easily for you? Why or why not?

A: I think the greatest challenge was shifting back and forth between Mr. Darcy and Mr. Collins. There were some moments that required both characters on stage during the same scene — a rapid switch that didn't have time for the luxury of a costume change. It required very specific and contrasting physical, vocal, and energy choices to make that work. Keeping it consistent was difficult at first.

Q: How did you get the role(s)?

A: I have a friend from college that works with Available Light Theatre Company. She recommended that I audition for the role. I drove to Columbus, auditioned, and a few days later was offered the contract. The opportunity to play Mr. Darcy and Mr. Collins was kind of like winning the male actor's lottery.

Q: How did you prepare for the role(s)?

A: I have performed in period pieces before so I already had experience with the style of the play. I think the most preparation went into unlocking what motivated both characters. Mr. Darcy and Mr. Collins are remarkably similar in that they are searching for the same thing — companionship. The fun lies in how differently the gentlemen pursue their goals.

Q: What do you think can be learned from Mr. Darcy and Mr. Collins? What do you think can be learned from Pride and Prejudice?

A: In exploring Mr. Darcy, I was surprised to find how much he was motivated by fear. He says to Elizabeth — "It has been the study of my life to avoid those weaknesses which often expose a strong understanding to ridicule." In an ideal world, perhaps we can learn to be kinder to one another — more accepting of one another's differences, so that we have less reason to fear our fellow human beings and therefore fewer walls necessary to protect us. Mr. Collins teaches us that perseverance will win in the end.

Q: What can students learn from your win?

A: It is important for my students to remember that acting isn't about awards — as much as it is an honor to receive one. As actors we need to constantly study what makes us human, so that we can craft what we discover into a performance that serves a story to the best of our ability. I am grateful that I have the opportunity to continue to practice the technique that I teach in the classroom — and that the students at JMU are hungry to learn it. An acting award on top of all that? Icing on the cake.

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