Jewell Porter, ’16: So, where are you from?
Matt Harmon, ’16: I’m from Elkins, West Virginia. It’s a tiny little town in the middle of nowhere about twice the size of Granville, so not too big.
J: I hear you will be acting in Denison’s production of Richard III. Do you mind talking more about the production and what your role in the production is?
M: I am Richard in it. It’s a very, very big role. It’s actually Shakespeare’s longest, if I’m not mistaken. It is larger than Hamlet. We’ve cut it down so that the audience isn’t sitting there for three hours, thankfully. It’s a great show about the end of the War of the Roses in England. Basically, Richard doesn’t get a lot of good things happening to him … [H]is brother’s king, his other brother is third in line, really. Many of them have kids, and so all of the nobility, the titles, the riches, they’re not going to him.
There’s only really one person whose love he craves, and that’s his mom’s, and he doesn’t even get that, really. At the beginning of the play, he has this big opening where he says, “It’s all going well for everybody except me. I’m getting nothing, but watch this, audience. I’m going to be a villain, and I’m going to completely mess with everybody else.” And he does.
J: Why do you think people will enjoy seeing it?
M: Visually, the set is going to be very beautiful. The original idea of the costumes was that they wanted everyone in kimonos, so we’ve got that. They’re beautiful. They’re absolutely beautiful costumes.
It has very poetic language, so you can just kick back and listen. Because of the opening monologue, it’s kind of my job to make sure that the audience is used to the great, feared Shakespeare language. Hopefully, we can ease them into that.
It’s a very relatable story. There’s a lot of people who say, “Hey, I want this to be part of my life and why isn’t it that way?” Then they either do or don’t get it. It’s very Game of Thrones-esque. There’s a lot of people plotting behind the scenes and a lot of turned coats. A lot of twists and turns.
J: When is the play?
M: We open this Friday, February 26th and close March 5th. All the shows are at 8pm but Sunday is a 2pm matinée. Sadly we don't have shows Monday and Tuesday night's, but that's so we all stay sane throughout this whole thing!
J: What do you love best about theater?
M: I am [a theater major with] a creative writing minor, so over the summer, I spent time writing a play and that was my second one that I wrote for summer research here at Denison. Those two passions of being on stage doing the theater thing and then the backstage creating the actual work… I found that I’ve really been able to combine those two things and really explore … which of the two I actually like the best.
I’m really enjoying playwriting right now, and I’m also in a class for it right now. This production of Richard is a very big acting challenge. There’s a lot happening, so that’s a final test to see if this is really going to be worth living out of cardboard boxes for ten years.
J: You’ve been busy. You wrote the play “The Will” for your summer research, which was performed by the Denison Independent Theatre Association. You are Vice President of Denison’s chapter of Theta Alpha Phi, the National Theatre Honors Fraternity. This is in addition to your acting. How are you balancing all of that?
M: I’ve kind of told everyone else I’m going to be gone for a couple of months while I’m focusing on Richard. With Theta Alpha Phi, the president can handle most of it. We don’t have a lot of big events happening at the beginning of the semester, thankfully. I’m president of DITA, so I’ve kind of given everything else to my Vice President and Secretary, and they do very good work.
J: What has been your favorite project while at Denison?
M: [Richard III] is definitely getting up there. It’s definitely a challenge. It’s been really awesome to see if I can do this and memorize all of these lines, which, thankfully, I’ve gotten to that point as of a couple of days ago …
Also, one of my favorite parts of the Denison theater scene is the student theater … They can write their own stuff … Everyone can try different things, whether it’s acting or directing.
J: Do you have a favorite actor?
M: I’m going to say Sir Ian McKellan, a British actor most known for Gandalf in Lord of the Rings. He’s also played Richard in a famous movie with Maggie Smith. I’ve always looked up to him. He’s a great Shakespearean actor.
J: Is that your favorite type of acting?
M: It’s the one I’m looking into, now that I’m doing all this stuff … A bunch of my favorite actors got Shakespearean training first, which is just the British way of doing it, I guess.
J: Have there been any friends or faculty at Denison who have helped you hone your craft?
M: The two that really jump out to me first are the chair of the theater department, Dr. Mark Evans Bryan, who was my advisor for writing this summer. I took my first playwriting class from him. He’s been essential to helping DITA get together, balancing department/student life, and he’s been a fantastic mentor for figuring out what to do. Another one is Wendy Barrie-Wilson, an assistant professor. She’s phenomenal. I love Wendy. Every time I meet with Wendy, she opens my eyes to new things. She’s definitely been one to push me.
J: What are your aspirations post-grad?
M: I’m basically trying to decide which city to go to, like New York, L.A., Chicago. It all depends on if I want to pursue the writing or the acting.
J: What will you miss the most about Denison after graduation?
M: Hopefully, I can keep in touch with the theater community … I’ll miss everyone’s willingness to jump in and try new things. Hopefully, I’ll find that out there as well. The safety net of the student theater will be gone, but hopefully we’ve done enough that we don’t need it as much.
J: If you could give the incoming first-year thespians any advice, what would that be?
M: Go out for every play and audition, try as many things as possible, and if you find that they’re not for you, then you’ve got three years afterward to figure out what that is. Give it a whirl! We love new faces. Try new things as much as you can. Go out on a limb and see what happens. Learn to laugh at yourself when you screw up.
J: Do you have any other comments that you’d like to make?
M: Hopefully everyone enjoys Richard!