Interview with the Cast: Titus Andronicus

The second show in our 2018 season, Titus Andronicus, remains popular, and as Titus Director/FlagShakes Executive Director Dawn Tucker put it:


We wanted to know what the cast was doing behind the scenes to get ready for such a show, so we sat down with Vicki Thompson (Titus) and Christian Tripp (Lucius) to find out more.

What has been your favorite role with FlagShakes?

CT: This is my First time with FlagShakes, but I love making discoveries as Lucius in Titus Andronicus!

VT: Titus Andronicus is, by far, my favorite and most challenging role with FlagShakes.

How does this role compare to others you’ve done?

CT: This is my first full Shakespeare role, so automatically that has a few new things like the language to keep in mind. However, I have played soldiers quite a few times now, and what I always carry over is making sure I’m actively chasing an objective.

VT: Titus may be one of my favorite Shakespearean roles, period. Although Gertrude, in Hamlet, was quite delicious to play as well. But in Titus, I play a role traditionally played by a man, and that makes it more exciting because people don’t expect it and (hopefully) are curious.

Do you have a dream role, Shakespeare or otherwise?

CT:  My dream role is Iago from Othello. I love the idea of portraying characters in ways they aren’t normally seen. To be able to take one of Shakespeare’s most beloved characters, do something not often done, and unlock the reasoning behind why he is the way he is would be an amazing experience.

VT: I don’t have a dream role at this time because fortunately, I have played a lot of them. I wouldn’t mind being in a Coen Brothers movie or some “over the top” children’s theatre villain.

What’s your favorite quality of this character? Least favorite?

CT:  My favorite quality of this character is how stable Lucius is. Lucius has been through so much at the start and end of this play, but he has to keep it together for his family. He is a fighter, and he can’t drop his guard or else his family and kingdom crumble. My least favorite quality lies in how he never uses his smarts to find peace; instead, he evokes more violence and revenge until the very end.

VT: Titus Andronicus is, by far, the most challenging and exhilarating role I have played in the relatively small catalog of Shakespeare roles I have had the honor to inhabit. I feel blessed to be trusted with such an iconic part. The complexity of this “revenge” play gives me, as a woman, the opportunity to explore complicated emotions as a soldier just home from war and as a mother seeking retribution for her many (many, many) sorrows.

Since these roles have been performed by thousands of people, do you have a new take? What are you hoping to highlight in this production?

CT: What I am hoping to highlight in Lucius is yes, he is a great warrior, but he is someone who thinks, too. I want my take on Lucius to be layered with three-dimensional qualities of holding back his rage for the sake of keeping a cool head for his family. With Titus on the verge of insanity, he can’t afford to lose.

VT: Without giving too much away…I am delving into the themes of family, as only a mother can, and coming up for air just long enough to assess the damages and by my own hand, in some cases, level the playing field.

How important is the relationship between Titus and Lucius? How are you tackling that in rehearsals?

CT: Everything I do is for Titus and to support her. I want to prove to her that I am a worthy son; it is my way of thanking her for taking care of me throughout war times. Because of this relationship, Titus feels she can trust me without hesitation over anyone else—my loyalty to her is unyielding.

VT: The relationship between Titus and her son Lucius is an extremely important one. They have been career soldiers together, so they’ve been trained to trust each other in a battle zone, which, unfortunately, helps them navigate back at home. Christian Tripp and I have been discussing gene pool issues and are working with the lines to find the bonds. Christian calls me “mom” and last night I called him “sweetums,” so the relationship is definitely building.

How does FlagShakes’s commitment to original staging practices help you communicate the character?

CT: The staging helps me communicate the character by allowing me to fully communicate with the other characters. My need to talk becomes so great that the words flow out without stress. The stage is filled with juicy tension, which causes interesting choices to emerge in a free environment.

VT: FlagShakes, as an organization, is expanding the horizons of this, “our little mountain town,” and finding ways to explore and increase the excellence of the arts community. With Dawn Tucker at the helm and all the dedicated board members, this venture stands on solid ground and will only get better and stronger in the years to come. Be prepared for big things from this company. I feel more than fortunate to play Titus Andronicus. Come along for the ride—you won’t be disappointed.

Is This Still Relevant?!?

Every time I teach Othello, I begin by telling my students that I long for the day when we read the story and say, “Well, this sure is pretty poetry, but we’re past insidious racism and double standards with regards to infidelity, so this really isn’t relevant.” Until then, tragedy will continue to be the most important social tool we have for talking about our social and emotional responsibilities to one another.

Titus is much the same as Othello; it is, unfortunately, as relevant now as it was in the 1600s.

Titus Andronicus sometimes gets a bad rap because of the “unrealistic” amount of violence. There is a lot of bloodshed in the play, but sadly, it’s nothing you wouldn’t encounter in any of several war-torn countries in the world at present—especially those where the citizens have, as have the people in Titus, been embroiled in violence for multiple generations. It is universally true that violence begets violence. There’s a little Quaker church on Beaver Street here in Flagstaff whose banner proclaims, “There is no way to peace, peace is the way.” Titus exemplifies this lesson as the characters concoct violent and complex revenge plots against each other, but no one ever feels any “peace.”

Titus was Shakespeare’s most frequently produced play during his lifetime.

People often explain the play’s 16th-century popularity by undercutting the intelligence and taste of the Early Modern English society. I think that’s hardly fair. Sure, they watched dogs kill bears for entertainment and drank beer at almost every meal, but don’t we have YouTube and an opioid crisis? Elizabethans who were educated were very well educated, and those who were illiterate were still listening to some of the most evocative poetry and rhetoric available, in churches and playhouses. I think they loved Titus for the same reasons we love “House of Cards.” Titus held a mirror up to the blackest parts of the Elizabethan culture.

Our production will both lean into the absurdity perceived by the modern audience and provide, through movement and music, visceral pathways to understanding it in a modern context.

I’m really looking forward to directing this play. We’ve assembled an incredible group of artists, onstage and offstage, and I have no doubt that the show we put together will be not only spectacular and fun but meaningful and shrewd. Violence committed by one human being upon another should always be abhorrent to us, but not because of the gore or spectacle. It should not horrify so much as it should sadden. When I’m directing Titus and working with our combat choreographer, I will be focused on the human life under assault and on the loss that follows a death. This will not be a “Game of Thrones” style “slash um and forget um” play.

Then we can all look forward to contrasting this early play about revenge with Shakespeare’s later and more mature work, Tempest.

In contrast to Titus’s exclamation,“I shall never come to bliss/Till all these mischiefs be return’d again/Even in their throats that have committed them,” Prospero’s final resolution to let his (or her) enemies walk away unpunished because, “the rarer action is/In virtue than in vengeance” shows how time and experience changed Shakespeare, both as a playwright and a man.