Aaron Brakefield: Underscoring The Drama

Aaron Brakefield is quickly becoming a regular on the Greenville stage.  Performing in his third show at The Warehouse in less than twelve months, Aaron’s acting and musical skills are establishing him as a go-to performer for all theatrical genres.  In Chekhov’s classic Uncle Vanya, both are on display as Aaron’s slides into the role of Waffles with ease and tunes up the classical guitar underscoring poignant moments throughout the play.  Aaron successfully dodged our interview requests last year, but we tracked him down this time for a fun conversation about Uncle Vanya.

WHT:  What’s been the greatest challenge of working on this script or play?
Aaron:  Not so much a challenge, but a bummer!  Uncle Vanya is one of those classic plays that’s so rich in nuance that I wanted to spend more time uncovering the world and minds of the characters with my fellow castmates, but the short rehearsal process did not allow. C’est la vie!

WHT:  From the beginning of rehearsal until now, what’s been the biggest shift in playing Waffles?
Aaron:  Well, there was a slight change in the show’s concept through the rehearsal process that made me start approaching things differently.  We were going to do a play-within-a-play approach that would have made my character an actor playing Waffles in street clothes, but the shift made the character more immediate and now I’m just playing the character of Waffles.  Not a very big deal, but it changed my thinking and approach a bit.

WHT:  Waffles has some rather comedic lines peppered throughout the show.  Have you been surprised at the audience reaction to them thus far?
Aaron:  I think it’s amazing how much more can be discovered about a character after adding the audience.  When I do get laughs I’m pretty sure it’s because his situation is so darn pathetic they laugh out of sympathy or discomfort.

WHT:  What was the single biggest influence upon the way you approached your Uncle Vanya character?
Aaron:  Hmmm. In my early acting days I never took for granted any time someone allowed me to crash on their couch or use their guest room for an extended period of time, while I sat around and picked my guitar…and my nose.  Waffles is one of those guys.  He’s a bum who needs constant affirmation that he’s not a bum.

WHT:  Was there anything in the scenic, lighting, or costume design that affected your choices on stage?
Aaron:  Nope.  I just can’t sit down too fast while wearing non-elastic suspenders…WEDGIE!!

WHT:  In the show, you are featured on the guitar in a number of scenes.  How long have you played guitar?  And have you ever played guitar, like this as an underscore, for a show before?
Aaron:  I’ve been playing the guitar now for twenty years.  Which is saddening because I was really hoping to be a rock legend by now. Guess I didn’t party hard enough.  And yes, I’ve composed, underscored, and accompanied myself and others throughout my career.

WHT:  Talk to us about working with David Sims as the composer and how the two of you selected and worked up the pieces that you play in the show.
Aaron:  David’s great!  We met a few times for him to share his compositions with me and I’d either transcribe them or take a video of what he was playing and practice it at home.  Then as rehearsals progressed I began weaving the music into the scenes and he would share suggestions on whether something worked or not.

WHT:  You only had three weeks of rehearsal time for a fairly difficult show.  Did the truncated schedule help you and if so, in what ways?
Aaron:  It’s interesting because in the time this show was written and performed at the Moscow Art Theatre, the actors would spend months working out the details of such a show.  Of course they had Stanislavski directing himself in a role, so God only knows the theories they were discussing, testing, and perhaps discarding throughout all of those months.  For us today I think a truncated rehearsal schedule simply requires us to do our homework and solidify our choices more quickly whether any of it  gets to be discussed during rehearsal or not.

WHT:  In the past year at The Warehouse, you’ve played Clarence in Richard III, Eddie & Dr. Scott in The Rocky Horror Show and now Waffles in Uncle Vanya.  That’s quite the lineup of completely different characters.  Describe the journey as you prepared for each drastically different role.
Aaron:  I think the journey is different for each mostly because the style and approach to each show has been different.  In
Richard III, I focused more on the analysis of the text because I wanted to  give regards to Shakespeare in some small way.  With Rocky we focused preparation around the audience interaction and finding one thing about the character we found the most fun to work with and just held on for the nightly whimsicalness, and with Uncle Vanya I tried to present as close to a finished product every night of rehearsal as I could because there were, as they say, “much bigger fish to fry,” while we were getting the show on its feet in such a short window of time.

WHT:  Your wife is a well-known actor in our city, Miranda Barnett.  When the two of you are not in shows together, do you help each other prepare for your individual shows?  Or do the two of you like to work independently of each other?
Aaron:  We definitely help each other in learning our lines and love to discuss character behavior, etc.  But as far as mental preparation and research she tends to keep to herself and I’m usually the weirdo secretly testing out things on people in public.  Or on the dog.

WHT:  Poor Miss Mimi!  But speaking of characters…you’ve got a few characters in that men’s dressing room with Ronn Carroll, Will Ragland, and Jason D. Johnson.  What’s that dressing room like each night before the show?
Aaron:  Tense…silent…joyless.  Just kidding!  I can’t believe I’m sitting next to Broadway veteran, Ronn Carroll!  And the other guys are OK, too, I guess.  (Aaron laughs).  Good times!

WHT:  What is your next gig after Uncle Vanya closes?
Aaron:  I’ll be playing Lucius Fretway in The Explorer’s Club at Centre Stage with another great group of folks. I’m really looking forward to it!

Get your tickets now and catch Aaron Brakefield’s fantastic guitar in Uncle Vanya through February 20th!