5 Questions with Aidan White
They call it Smallbany because everybody knows everybody and this weekend Schenectady Civic Players is opening their production of “The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?” with four actors, all of whom I have worked with and one of whom I have known since he was born. In fact, he stole my birthday and all of my birthdays since 2004 have been shared with him, my nephew Aidan White. The family response to him playing the son Billy in Edward Albee’s modern classic about a man who falls in love and has sexual relations with a goat was…mixed. Perhaps my family’s response explains some of the hesitancy at Capital Region theaters to schedule this play 23 years after its writing even though it won the Tony and Drama Desk Award for Best Play and was a finalist for that year’s Pulitzer Prize in Drama. I’m very excited to see my nephew in SCP’s production!
PW: This play was postponed earlier this year and was picked up and scheduled for this summer slot with a new director and some new cast members. Can you talk about your feelings about the opportunity to play this part in this play?
AW: I feel deeply privileged to be able to do this production after it’s postponing. Without its original inception, I would never have been introduced to this great play or Edward Albee in general. I originally anticipated “The Goat” to be my Capital Region acting debut, which I was so excited about because it was such an honor to perform such a renowned and provocative show as my debut! After the postponing, my debut ended up being in “The Nether” at The Ghent Playhouse (with great direction by the way!) and I feel that my experience in that production was essential to a great performance in this upcoming production. I really learned a lot, and I attribute a lot of that to you helping me through my first performance outside of high school.
PW: Well, thank you very much. It was great fun being in rehearsal with you. You’ve told me that you had a discussion about the theme of ancient tragedy in this play, can you tell me about that?
AW: The title of this show has a subheading: “Notes Towards a Definition of Tragedy,” which is admittedly pretty vague. Reading into the script, Albee makes slight hints of Greek influence (in the first act specifically, there is a mention of the “Eumenides”) and our set designers make slight references at Greco style, but the Greek tragedy narrative reads much more prominently in the play’s overarching themes. Martin, the main character, has everything in the world, with fame, recognition, money, and a very loving wife, which makes his fall from grace incredibly tragic. Greek theater presents us with emotionally charged material that allows us to process things in our own lives. With “The Goat,” Albee helps the audience wrap their heads around the confounding nature of love by pushing the boundaries of who (or what) is societally acceptable to love and how, opening our minds to focus on what it means to love someone or something.
PW: This play has a very provocative subject matter, what could an audience membership gain from this play, someone who is very resistant to it?
AW: I’ve heard Brian Sheldon say many times (in other words) “If you’re not going to theater to learn something, then why are you going?” Albee’s work certainly isn’t light, in fact it is often quite objectionable in content, but this is of course the point. Regardless of somebody’s reluctance to see the show, I think anybody can come to our production and take with them lessons about what we deem as “permissible” in society, and also appreciate the high level of acting our cast has achieved throughout rehearsing. If somebody is reluctant to see the show, then I think they are in the best position to open their minds and learn something new at the playhouse.
PW: You’ve dug into Albee’s work since being cast (I would like my scripts returned before you leave for college please), what do you find in his work that excites you? What would you really like to see?
AW: My favorite theater has always been theater that makes me think, and I believe Albee has an incredible grasp on how to capture that in American audiences in particular. I also think that theater almost always necessitates comedy to be engaging. These two qualities, coupled with Albee’s deep understanding of language and cadence, makes his work so captivating to me. Albee puts a microscope to what makes us tick, mixing in deep societal critiques with dark and supremely clever satire to create compelling works of theater. Out of all his works, I think I want to see Albee’s first play, “The Zoo Story,” the most (Er, I guess “Edward Albee’s at Home at The Zoo” now. He’s kind of a pedant, no?). I simply believe this play to capture Albee’s essence more than any other…as far as I know. I’m still reading through all the plays you gave me :)…)
PW: What is a play that changed your life and how?
AW: I think the majority of the plays I have seen have either been with you or watching you or your direction/producing, to be honest. It has to have been “Jesus Hopped the A Train” in New York City. I remember turning to you during the show and telling you that I really loved it, and I think it was then that I realized how much I enjoyed theater as an art form. It had everything I talked about earlier in what I enjoy about certain shows, especially the humor. I always had an idea that the criminal justice system was flawed (I’d seen statistics), but I never was able to imagine the real human beings it affected. I didn’t realize it then, but that was one of the most formative experiences I’ve had in letting me realize what I truly love: performing arts.
“The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?” opens Friday, 7/21 at Schenectady Civic Playhouse and runs through 7/30. Tickets: www.civicplayers.org