Although she has been queen longer than many of us have been alive, not even Queen Elizabeth II will reign forever. In Mike Bartlett's Olivier Award-winning and Tony nominated play "King Charles III," we get a glimpse into the future. Queen Elizabeth has died, and her son Charles has taken over the throne. However, being king is not all tea and crumpets. When a controversial bill comes his way, Charles must decide what kind of king—and man—he wants to be for his country.
Directed by USC alum Michael Michetti, this show will also feature three USC alumni on the stage: Sarah Hollis, who plays Prince Harry's love interest, Abe Martell, and Amielynn Abellera.
Hollis, Martell and Abellera share their insights on the show, their experience, and how their time at USC impacted them.
In one or two sentences, what is this play about?
Martell: For me, this play is about the grey area that is often overlooked in the laws that govern our society, and how those interpretations will impact our future. In this show, King Charles is pitted against his own parliament and neither side is willing to budge. The results are…well, you have to come see the show to find that out.
This show's style of writing was heavily influenced by Shakespeare. How did this affect the way you approached the text?
Hollis: Shakespeare was a master at creating characters who all said how they felt on the line. If Juliet cries, it's described on her line and the stage directions come from the character's words and speeches. Similarly, I felt the same with Jess. I could take everything she said as truth (unless proven otherwise) and it made it easier for me to read less into subtext and really get to the heart of her character and what she believes. Also, honoring the times she speaks in iambic pentameter helps me to understand the operative words that the audience needs to hear in order to convey her point of view. The text in prose I could really develop on my own what the operative words are, however, the verse lines helped to establish rhythm and "what's important." Instead of shying away from the pentameter, I chose to drive it hard so that I could understand the reasons for going into verse as opposed to prose, like I would with Shakespeare.
What drew you to this show?
Abellera: I met Michael Michetti five years ago, and have been a big fan ever since. He has a contagious positive energy, passion, and sense of joy throughout the entire process – he puts such trust and faith in his artists. His endless dedication to theatre in Los Angeles is inspiring and I just want to be around that energy. Last year, he directed me in a solo show called "Captain of the Bible Quiz Team." I learned and grew artistically so much in that process with him, and I have been eager to work with him again. I was so happy to be called in for this project.
Why do you think American audiences are so interested in stories about the British Monarchy?
Hollis: Oh, wow, so many reasons! I mean, personally, I find the fact that there is still a ruling class of people that help to decide laws and have remained respected and admired for centuries, very interesting. Perhaps as a child, the idea of being a princess was appealing, too, but I think we are all a little fascinated by a group of people that are so unlike us. The thought of being part of a royal family is so unfamiliar that it's compelling and fantastical. Their job is to set example and rule from a place of privilege, that the entire world accepts. However, I think from a fictional point of view, we look to television shows, movies and theater to find the question: what is the royal family really like? Behind closed doors, are they like us? I think the answer is "yes", but we can never really know.
Martell: I think American audiences love the British Monarchy because in some respects it's bizarre that such things still exists in 2017, yet at the same time, who wouldn't want to be King with a castle and butlers and millions of people who look to you as a representation of their cultural identity?
What has been the most memorable part of working on this production?
Hollis: There are so many things. Firstly, our amazing director Michael is by far one of the best directors I have ever had the pleasure of working with. He is an actor's director. Compassionate, insanely intelligent, passionate, and also so generous with time and letting every person play and find their way through the script are just some of the ways he has been throughout our entire process. I am so grateful for getting the chance to work with him; it truly has been a dream come true. Second of all, the cast is spectacular. Not only are people so sweet and smart, but also everyone is incredibly talented. This is really one of the first times I have looked around at who my fellow actors are and been so honored to know, without a shadow of doubt, that I am among some of the most talented people I've met. I am so in love with this cast and our director… I couldn't have asked for a better group of creatives to make a piece of theater with! They have truly made this experience the best one to date for me.
Abellera: This show is unlike any I have ever done. It has a diverse cast of 16, with half of the cast playing at least 4 non-speaking/speaking roles of different dialects, class levels, and physicalities. It's a joy to watch each ensemble member – admiring their ease as they switch in and out of a myriad of roles, with detailed specificity and still bring honesty and depth to each character.
How did your time at USC inform your acting?
Hollis: I think USC helped me especially in breaking down text. Knowing what I'm saying on each line as opposed to a generalized "feeling" or "emotion" as a through line has been vital. This doesn't mean over complicating each word in a sentence, but really understanding moment to moment what's happening within a phrase. The amount of work we would do in a specific scene and getting clear about what's being said was immensely helpful. Because of text analysis I also love table work!!!
Martell: My time in the USC MFA program informed my acting quite a bit, specifically my work with Natsuko Ohama and Andy Robinson my second year in the MFA. Between those two professors, we dove into Pinter, Shakespeare, verse, social class, and dialect work. An understanding of those tools has been paramount to this process.
Abellera: At USC, I started to understand and learn who I truly am as a person and what my body/being/self is capable of as an artistic instrument. With each project, I work to bring my unique self to each character's thoughts, physicality, discoveries and listening.
"King Charles III" will be playing at the Pasadena Playhouse November 8th– December 3rd. Tickets range from $25 – $96, and are available online at PasadenaPlayhouse.org, by phone at 626-356- 7529, or in person at the Pasadena Playhouse Box Office, located at 39 South El Molino Avenue, Pasadena, CA 91101.