Theatre Interview: Mark Elderkin – Midsummer Night’s Dream, Or Getting To The Bottom Of A Role

November 3, 2023

By BRUCE DENNILL

 

Presented by the Maynardville Open-Air Festival, in association with VR Theatrical, A Midsummer Night’s Dream weaves a tale of love-struck couples, eccentric actors, and mischievous fairies. The play blurs the line between reality and fantasy, exploring the complexities of human relationships, the power of dreams, and the capricious nature of love.

Mark Elderkin stars as Bottom.

 

In the lead-up to a new production, how do you prepare physically, mentally and emotionally?

I generally try to maintain a certain level of “performance fitness” throughout the year. I’m not a gym bunny, but I live in the countryside on a mountain so I do a lot of walking.  If it’s a theatre job, I start working on rebuilding vocal muscularity and breath control as early as possible. I’m a pretty calm person most of the time. I make sure I know the script inside out and try not to get flustered by any negative thoughts I may be having about my performance or the production. Emotionally, it depends on the role. Some directors prefer you to leave your personal emotional baggage at the door… I think it’s more exciting for the process to bring all the baggage in with you and put it on the table, use what works and throw out the rest.

 

What is the single most influential performance you’ve ever seen – the one that made you feel: “This is what I want to do with my life!”?

I remember watching an amateur production of The Phantom of the Opera at the Mbabane Theatre Club in Swaziland (Eswatini) and thought it was the best thing in the world when I was about six. Later when I was at The National School of the Arts in Johannesburg we had great drama teachers who took us to see plays at The Market Theatre and what was then the Civic Theatre. I can still vividly recall my reaction to watching professional theatre for the first time and being totally awestruck by the magic of it all. By the time I finished high school I’d seen so many great South African actors on stage and I was certain that this was what I wanted to do.

 

What is your favourite aspect of the industry – be it specific people, parts of the production process, particular venues/locations or something else?

Theatre is obviously completely different to working in film or television. I enjoy the rehearsal process in theatre and getting to spend time dismantling and rebuilding the script with cast mates and directors. It feels like you’re a part of an ensemble and a group process. When I do film work, the process is sometimes a bit more lonely in a way, You don’t often get the luxury of rehearsing so you’re forced to be completely open and adaptable, ready to try something totally different in the moment. It’s a different kind of thrill to theatre. Mostly I enjoy the energy that buzzes around creative people who care deeply about the work they’re trying to do.

 

What is an aspect of the industry that you feel could be improved (even if that’s only an idealistic wish)?

Oh, I’m sure I have exactly the same gripes as most artists working in South Africa. Funding and the lack thereof. People in charge who’ve never stepped into a theatre and have no clue how our industry works. Production companies that feel no shame in offering you less money than you earned ten or 15 years ago and then taking six months to pay you. The lack of willpower at the highest levels to guarantee that actors are paid residuals for their work. It’s a boring list but one that never seems to resolve.

 

What has been your scariest onstage/on set moment so far (anything from forgetting words or cues to accidents or other unforeseen events)?

Luckily, nothing too terrible… yet! I’ve had the usual panicked moments of forgetting lines or entrances and survived a few final night attacks. Stage actors sometimes like to try a few new things on the final night. This typically results in an anguished director rushing backstage and threatening everyone with death! On one occasion I had an extremely quick costume change and had to shoot through a trapdoor in a wig, boots and sunglasses. A fellow actor had filled the boots with water and completely blackened the sunglasses with shoe polish. The water I discovered straight away but couldn’t do anything about and I couldn’t see anything for the rest of the play.

 

Tell us about your current production, and what makes your character interesting to play?

I’m playing Nick Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s one of those parts that has been done so many times in so many different ways. The fun part is blocking out all of the other ways you’ve seen it done, opening the text and starting afresh. Getting the opportunity to play him has been a fun task. The production was initially staged at the Maynardville outdoor theatre in Cape Town at the beginning of the year and again recently at the Toyota US Woordfees in Stellenbosch, where it has been nominated for several awards. We’ve had a great response from audiences young and old, with standing ovations and sold-out shows, which makes it a joy to be a part of. Our director Geoffrey Hyland is hugely sought after around the world, particularly for directing Shakespeare, and VR Theatrical are a  passionate production and entertainment company who are doing big things in the South African theatre industry. The cast are a young, highly talented mix of up and comers and established actors who are a joy to work with and we’re all looking forward to getting started in Johannesburg.

 

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