When actor KIERNAN MCGOWAN tackles the title role in We Happy Few Productions ’ Henry V , he continues a Shakespearian trajectory launched by a sixth grade appearance as Oberon. Get the scoop in this week’s Take Ten, and join McGowan as he ventures “once more unto the breach” from April 12 to 29.
1) What was the first show you ever saw, and what impact did it have?
I’m not sure exactly what my first show was, but I remember very clearly being enthralled by a production of The Fantasticks produced by some of my father’s students. I also have clear memories of a production of The Tempest performed by only 6 actors in a touring production that came through my hometown. I loved going to see plays as a kid, it always made me feel awed and inspired.
2) What was your first involvement in a theatrical production?
I first starting taking theatre classes at school in 6th grade, though my first production was at the ArtsCenter in Carrboro, North Carolina. It was A Midsummer Night’s Dream and I doubled as Oberon and Egeus. I was kind of a shy and cautious kid and theatre offered me a great opportunity to meet other people and break out of my shell a little bit.
3) What’s your favorite play or musical, and why do you like it so much?
The best show I’ve ever seen was the National Theatre of Scotland’s Black Watch. The way they combine movement with realistic scenes, history, music, and non-linear storytelling is just stunning. For plays generally I’ll say anything by Miller or Shakespeare; my favorite musical is You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.
4) What’s the worst day job you ever took?
I’ve done all kinds of things to try to make money; though working as a personal assistant was definitely the worst. It seemed like a great idea, but being at someone’s beck and call all the time got really stressful. Now I’m happy to be teaching and working as a standardized patient which are both infinitely more rewarding.
5) What is your most embarrassing moment in the theatre?
My very first professional production was The Playboy of the Western World with the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble. At the opening night reception one of the theatre’s major benefactors stated quite loudly that he thought my performance was awful and that he couldn’t understand anything that I said on stage. I was standing only a few feet away and the director scheduled a private rehearsal for only me and her the next day. I was mortified, though I guess it was an early lesson in growing thick skin and not paying too much attention to bad reviews.
This will be my third time on stage with WHF and the thing I love most about the company is the sense of collaboration and camaraderie. Actors in the production have a lot of license to bring ideas to the table and sometimes it almost has the feel of a devised piece. I love the amount of creativity that comes into the room with every rehearsal and this Henry V has the potential to make people see the play in a way they maybe haven’t before.
7) Other than your significant other, who’s your dream date (living or dead) and why?
Any DC artistic director. Just two years out of grad school I still feel relatively new in the city and I’d love to sit down, introduce myself, and pick your brain.
8) What is your dream role/job?
I wouldn’t say I really have a dream role. Of course there are roles that I think I’m suited for, or that I would really like to play, but generally every time I get cast I am just so happy and thankful for the opportunity that whatever I’m working on feels like my dream role. It helps that I’ve done some really fun roles lately, playing Paudie in Coolatully with Solas Nua has been incredible, and I’m really looking forward to playing Henry as well.
9) If you could travel back in time, what famous production or performance would you choose to see?
I would have loved to have seen Orson Welles’ 1937 production of Julius Caesar. Welles was such an imaginative artist and I would have relished the chance to see his work on stage. I would also have loved to see Noel Coward perform in some of his own plays, or some of the work of the original Federal Theatre Project.
10) What advice would you give to an 8-year-old smitten by theatre / for a graduating MFA student?
To a graduating MFA student I would say to keep finding the love and the joy in theatre. So many aspects of the business can be disheartening and frustrating, sometimes the reason you are hustling through all the day jobs, pulling long hours, going to audition after audition can get lost. Just keep finding ways to enjoy yourself, enjoy your art and keeping doing it because it’s fun. No one is making you be a theatre artist, so make sure that it’s your passion and not just another set of things taking up space in your already crowded calendar. To an 8 year-old (as many of my students are) I say: keep exploring and having fun, but above all don’t forget to just be a kid, it’s the best actor training you can have.
KIERNAN MCGOWAN is an actor, producer and theatre educator. Area credits include Henry V, The Winter's Tale, Romeo and Juliet (We Happy Few Productions); Coolatully (Solas Nua); Eurydice (NextStop Theatre Co); Electric Baby (Rorschach); Not Enuf Lifetimes (The Welders); The BFG u/s (National Theatre), Jack and Phil u/s (Imagination Stage); The Tempest (Annapolis Shakespeare Co); Perfect Arrangement (Source Festival). Kiernan is the production manger of We Happy Few Productions, a teaching artist with Shakespeare Theatre Company and has an MFA from Catholic University.