Will Ragland: No Dresses This Time

Will Ragland is one of our area’s most popular theatre artists and The Warehouse Theatre is thrilled to have him back on stage anchoring the title role in Uncle Vanya.  Recently we caught up with Will to talk about the show, his influences, and what it’s like returning to The Warehouse stage.  Here’s his story.

WHT:  What’s the experience been like to come back to the stage as a performer after several years away?
Will:  Aside from a cameo in Grease this past summer, I haven’t been on stage since GLT’s Les Miserables in June of 2014. It actually doesn’t feel as though I’ve been absent for very long as an actor, probably because of the continuous work I have been doing as a director and scenic designer. It has been refreshing to be a part of a production in which I only had to act and not worry about anything else and especially with the group of pros we have working on Uncle Vanya. I was also thankful that I did not have to dress up like a woman in this play, as I’ve done at some point for the past three shows I’ve been in here at The Warehouse.

WHT:  During your performance hiatus, you began Mill Town Players in Pelzer, South Carolina. Being the artistic director of a theatre, has that caused you to approach rehearsal or the play in a different light?
Will:  I don’t think it has affected my approach that much, but it has certainly affected my experience. I pay attention to as much as possible to what is going on around me – how rehearsals are structured and run, directing and acting techniques, how the set was constructed and painted, how spaces are organized and labeled, how the show is marketed, how the experience of the audience is influenced – basically observing any good idea that I can steal. I’m always looking for ways to improve what we are offering with Mill Town Players, and I rely heavily on the advice of my friends, including Paul Savas!

WHT:  What’s been the greatest challenge of working on this script or play?
Will:  The greatest challenge for me personally has been my own time management. I teach all day and am in preparations for our spring production of Disney’s Mulan Jr. at Palmetto High, we are working on The Foreigner with Mill Town Players, and I was recently sworn in as a member of the Pelzer Town Council. I wasn’t sure how I would survive taking on Uncle Vanya, but somehow it worked out. I’m thankful to have had a patient and supportive team to work with and of course to be expertly guided by the direction of Roy Fluhrer. A lot can be learned from that man.

WHT:  From the beginning of rehearsal until now, what’s been the biggest shift in playing Vanya?
Will:  I think that finding the full mixture of this feelings throughout the play may have been the biggest shift. He really does have moments of happiness, love, and playfulness amidst the depression and feelings of failure and loss. It seems as though the works of art that leave us with the most questions are sometimes the ones that tend to stand the test of time. I don’t think Vanya is necessarily a sad man. I think he is a real man, and one that we have seen somewhere in our lives or perhaps in ourselves. Life is of course a mixture of both tragedy and comedy.

WHT:  What was the single biggest influence upon the way you approached your Vanya character?
Will:  Honestly, my biggest influence was trying to achieve Roy Fluhrer’s vision for the character. I admire him as a director and educator and wanted to learn as much as I could from him while doing my job to help craft the Vanya he needed to tell this story. I got a lot of notes, and it made me better. I am usually cast in musicals, so I also wanted to develop some further skills playing a character that was much different than those I’ve typically played in the past.

WHT:  The actors have plucked a lot of comedy from the script. Have you been surprised at the way audiences have responded with laughter?
Will:  Absolutely. I wasn’t expecting the laughter. You normally don’t equate Chekhov with laughs, but there are indeed some humorous moments we have found together. It’s always great to hear the room fully engaged in what is happening on stage.

WHT:  Was there anything in the scenic, lighting, or costume design that affected your choices on stage?
Will:  Yes. Always. For me, a production comes alive with the addition of those elements. It enhances the work you do in rehearsal in a way nothing else can. It completes the imaginary world you step into and influences your existence as the character. I especially appreciate the guitar, sound design, and lighting of this production in creating mood.

WHT:  You’ve been a public school teacher for quite some time now. How often, when working on a show, do you find something that you want to take back and share with your students?
Will:  Daily. I try to take advantage of any real life example of work in the theater to share with my students. I want them to know that it is accessible to them as well and hopefully they will feel encouraged to take advantage of the many opportunities we have in the Upstate to work in a theater, and in a variety of ways beyond acting.

WHT:  Does being a visual artist ever affect the way you approach a role or your acting choices?
Will:  Big time! The visual aspects of my characters are always very important to me. My friends make fun of me because when I am cast in a play, I often will first consider what type of wig I’ll be wearing for the character. It almost always starts with the hair. Since Vanya wasn’t really a “wig role” it wasn’t that much of a consideration this time. I did, however, decide to grow a beard. I’m playing 10 years older than my real age, so I think growing out what hair I can grow helps age me a bit, especially now that I am getting some noticeable gray hairs.

WHT:  Is there someone else’s work that you greatly enjoy? If so, who and why?
Will:  I always enjoy watching actors that fully transform. I like to forget the real person I am watching. I find that type of talent fascinating. I’d much rather watch a chameleon than a star. I honestly don’t have any favorite Broadway or Hollywood actors. I just enjoy watching actors that can make you completely believe the story they are telling.

WHT:  What’s your next gig after Uncle Vanya closes?
Will:  As an actor, I’ll be performing in Greater Tuna with Mill Town Players at the Pelzer Auditorium, running May 20 through June 12. Our website is www.milltownplayers.org. Shane Willimon will be joining me in this ridiculously funny play about small town humor in which we’ll be playing all 20 characters. Lots of great wig roles in this one!

Get your tickets now and catch Will Ragland, sans wig and dresses, in Uncle Vanya through February 20th!