Brock Koonce…if this son of Greenville is around, you know that bountiful energy and laughter will not be far behind. And in Important Hats of the Twentieth Century, his sense of humor is on full display. He stopped his time travel just long enough for us to catch up with him for a quick interview as we come down the home stretch of this run.
WHT: We’ve been asking all the actors this question. For a script that is so fast-paced and covers so much “time,” where does your approach start for a show like Important Hats?
Brock: Script work and defining the different characters. They have to be different. Not just in style, but in language, cadence, physicality and intention. That’s fun to do. Then, the table read. You have to listen to the others in the show to hear what “language” they are speaking. It helps me move within specific moments.
WHT: Tell us a bit about the discoveries you’ve made from your initial read of the show to now on the eve of closing?
Brock: When I first read the script it was unpublished. The script we have is published and has been refined. It is much clearer, concise and intentional. There is a much better “arc” to the show and a lot more clarification to what we, as actors, have to convey.
WHT: What struck you as most important in the first read (or additional reads) of the script with your roles?
Brock: There are many people I haven’t worked with, so I would say the new voices I’ve gotten to hear. It’s great to hear them. Very exciting and energizing to work with great actors I haven’t met before.
WHT: What’s been the most significant change you’ve made in your portrayal of your characters since rehearsals started?
Brock: Jay Briggs and I had some short, but great, conversations about one of my characters that have helped me define his intention. He can be played as an imbecile, but he doesn’t see that. And, it would be easy to “play” that, but Jay helped me realize that the character is excited about his world and has a “passion” that helps keep him excited. It helped to drive a lot of the aspects of him to show.
WHT: What’s been your greatest challenge in bringing this show to life?
Brock: Catching my breath in Act 2.
WHT: What strikes you as the most fun element about the show itself?
Brock: It’s new. It’s a very cool thing to be able to do something the first time. I’ve done shows that have a long history of performances. This one doesn’t. Every choice you make is solely you. You don’t have a history to work from or a great performance to study. This is all unique.
WHT: There are like a million characters in this show. So if you were given the opportunity to swipe a character in this show from one of your fellow actors…which one would it be and why?
Brock: That’s just an impossible question to answer. Everyone knocks it out of the park with their roles. I just love watching them all. Of course, if my feet were to the fire, I’ll switch with Anne Kelly Tromsness. I ain’t afraid of wearing dresses.
WHT: When is the last time you performed a play in the round? Talk about what this experience is like preparing for the audience to be so close to you no matter where you run on set.
Brock: I’ve never done a show in the round. This is why I love The Warehouse Theatre. You always have the opportunity to work in a different layout. And, it’s why I love theater in Greenville. We have a proscenium with Greenville Little Theatre, a thrust with Centre Stage, an outdoor park with Upstate Shakespeare Festival, and a blackbox with The Warehouse. It’s a great place for an actor to learn how to adapt.
WHT: Often actors find that certain scenes in shows are just flat out fun to play every night. Is there a scene in this show that bubbles to the top for you? That you simply look forward to playing every single night?
Brock: All of them. But, I love Kern. He’s such an innocent soul. That’s all I have to say.
WHT: What’s it like working with a brand new draft of a script?
Brock: The choices you make are your own. It’s great. I read a draft of a new play by and for Lee Blessing a few years ago. He came up to me afterwards and said, “Hm, I never thought of him that way…” That was it. I don’t regret my choices. And, that’s kind of it. You get to create something that is completely unique and new. By the way, I was so stunned that I forgot to ask Mr. Blessing to sign my script.
WHT: What’s the process been like working with Jay Briggs as a director?
Brock: Great. I have wanted to work with him for over a year. I worked with his wonderful wife, Amanda Sox, last year. I knew that she was talented and that she would not marry a bad director. (Brock laughs.) He really analyzes the script and works with the actors to make the story come to life. I feel that 100% of my work is to trust my director. When they are willing to collaborate with me, that earns my trust. Jay always asked me questions…what was my character thinking…what was the reason my character would do this or that…why would I say this? It made me have to think about intention and purpose. I love that. I’ve worked with some great directors. Jay is right up there in my opinion.
WHT: Was there anything in the scenic, lighting, or costume design that affected your choices on stage?
Brock: Matt Reece. He always affects me on stage.
WHT: Piece of advice for an audience member coming to see Important Hats?
Brock: Just go with it. Trust us and we will trust you.
Catch longtime Warehouse collaborator Brock Koonce in the final performances of Important Hats of the Twentieth Century this weekend!