This is Part 1 of my series of 3 interviews with the cast of “Master Harold”. . . and the boys. Tomorrow: Michael Anthony Williams.
Sean McComas, a recent Acting graduate of the University of Maryland Baltimore County, is starring in Annapolis, Md. as ‘Master Harold’ (“Hally”) in Bay Theatre Company’s three man ensemble smash of the season – “Master Harold” . . . and the boys. This is one of the most emotionally stirring and unforgettable productions that I have seen all year. Take advantage of your last chance this weekend to see Director Richard Pilcher’s thought-provoking production!
Sydney-Chanele: What is like being a recent college graduate with an acting degree and finding theater work in this competitive D.C. theater market?
Sean: O.K. It’s tough. The DC theater scene is great. Because this is such a serious theater scene, you have to have good training. There are amazing people out there . . . tons who are so talented and have been training more than the next. So I think you really do need to have to have a degree in acting, or have at least trained very seriously in order to work consistently in this area . . . I’m pretty lucky because I have a good network set up, and I’ve done pretty well getting shows, and auditions, and things like that. But it’s hard to tap into – especially as a fresh face. I’ve done mailings, open auditions, and then I’ve also done some of those big calls like StrawHat Auditions. I actually just signed with an agency for commercials, Wilhelmina Philadelphia. So hopefully that will get me some more commercials.
I know that I don’t want to go to New York, L. A., or Chicago until I’ve built up my resume and have some more credits.
Please introduce your character in “Master Harold” . . . and the boys, and tell us about your character Hally (‘Master Harold’).
My character is Hally, a 17-year-old kid, and is sort of a social outcast a lot the time. I think a lot of that spurs from his relationship with his father, and the way that his father acts in public – an example which is shown in the end of the show. He also is a very intelligent 17- year old kid, which makes him more an outcast with his peers. So, his only friends are the two servants who work in his mother’s tea shop – Sam (Michael Anthony Williams) and Willie (Baakari Wilde). They have this interesting relationship because they both act almost like a father figure – Sam much more than Willie. Willie is more like a brother figure. They have this camaraderie that he doesn’t get anywhere else – one that Hally doesn’t get in any other relationship. That’s part of the reason why it’s so tragic that there’s this falling out.
Is Hally a social outcast because of the way people treat him or is he ostracized because of his insecurities?
In some ways he ostracizes himself. He is the kind of person who isn’t going to put up with – for lack of a better term – anyone’s bull****. He’s not going to hang out with people who he feels are less intelligent than he. So in that respect, I feel like he sort of ostracizes himself. But I also feel that there is some stigma attached to him because of his father, and the various things that have happened to him in his childhood because of his drunken father.
How do you interpret Hally’s relationship with his mother?
His relationship with his mom is very strained. He wants his mom to be on his side, but most of the time his mom is defending her husband. I think in a lot of ways this is sort of indicative of the time and place setting in the 50′s. She’s got to be a doting wife, as well as a mother. So I think she is spread pretty thin, but she’s weak dealing with Hally’s father, and that really makes Hally angry. That frustrates him a lot.
Why did you want to audition for this role?
A few years ago my professor told me about this show, and how he thought it would be a great part for me. I never read the play . . . but then, one day I see a Call posted on the Equity website. I read the play and said ‘this is a perfect part for me.’ It’s a great play. Because I had done a show at Bay Theatre Company before (The Foreigner, where I played Ellad Simms), so I called Janet Luby , the Artistic Director, and asked if I could read for the role. After the reading, and a callback, I received an email that said I got the part.
What type of research did you use in preparating for the role?
So, I read . . . and actually watched a lot of interviews with (playwright) Athol Fugard. The play is semi-autobiographical. He doesn’t actually speak a lot about what happened to him at the time. He just gives little snippets, because I think that what happened in the actual situation is something that he is deeply regretful. He even talks about how he wrote this play to try to exorcize his soul. I also read Fugard’s autobiography Cousins, which touches a lot on this time in his life. Something that really stood out for me is when he talks about how as a teenage boy, when you are upset it comes out as anger. It’s uncontrollable and that’s your immediate reaction because you don’t want to show the weakness of being sad. That information was definitely helpful to me in relation to the play.
To be honest with your acting, some would say that you have to put yourself into the character. How much of Sean McComas is in this role? Could you relate to those emotional extremes in any way?
Hally will go from 0 – 60 in a couple of seconds. One minute life is great, the next minute life is terrible . . . mankind has no hope. I remember those mood swings very vividly in myself in my teens years. The slightest thing could happen and then everything is terrible . . . the world is against you. That is definitely something I can relate to – those teenage years. (Laughing).
In terms to his relationship with his parents . . . that took a lot of imagination, because I have a really great relationship with my family and my parents.
What was most difficult challenge for you with this show?
It was dealing with the racism that is sprinkled throughout the play, and how natural that racism is for my character. He doesn’t even think about it because he was raised in that environment. That was difficult to grasp in a nonchalant kind of way.
How easy was it to learn that British South African accent?
(Laughing.) Oh that was one of the toughest things. I’ve had some background with dialects but not a lot, and the British South African accent is tough because it’s such an amalgam of things. It was a lot of time sitting down practicing, recording it, and listening to it and going – ‘oh that sounds terrible.’ And starting over again, until it got better.
Was there a particular line or scene that was particularly troubling?
The spitting scene. I was very tentative for a while. Very.
You’ve been doing this show for several weeks now, with several performances a week. How do you get in that emotional space to be comfortable with that scene – and make it feel real?
You just have to be in the moment. That is definitely coming from a place of uncontrollable rage – he doesn’t know what to do. He has just been completely insulted, and he’s disgusted . . . That’s one of those things Athol (Fugard) is referring to – terrible rage to mask pain and confusion. It has gotten easier, uh, out of sheer repetition . . . and now that I know Michael is fine with it.
Let talk about your relationship with the two other cast members. What have you learned?
It’s been amazing! I am learning so much working with both Michael and Bakaari, who have so much experience and have done so much all over the country . . . I’ve learned so much about playfulness inside a production. The production has grown in so many different ways, and we’re just coming on stage every night finding different things . . . feeling the text in different ways – nonverbal things . . . It’s great to work with people who are so free and able to allow that to happen. And, I think that it’s a valuable commodity – especially when you do a show over and over for a long period of time and you are able to keep it fresh, and keep it honest. That is definitely something that I have learned from them.
Tell me more about the ‘ playfulness inside the production’.
When you go into opening night you have a basic shape. You have the blocking and you have the text. Within that you have so much room to play, like how you deliver lines . . . Intention usually stays the same but you can affect how you reach that intention, changes tactics . . . things like that. The director (Richard Pilcher) was very hands off. He trusted us a lot. He kept saying that 85% of the director’s job is casting.
What impresses you most about the “Master Harold” . . . and the Boys script . . . and this Bay Theatre production?
What impresses most about the script is how tight it is. It is great from the start, and the way the exposition is laid out is very well done. It’s not giving you a list of – ‘O. K. we’re going to throw some exposition in at the beginning and then we’ll do what we really want to be doing.’ This script does a great job of making sure it’s spread out. It feels so conversational, and it flows so well. Then at the end, it has this great crescendo that I think is very powerful – especially in this intimate space ( at Bay Theatre Company).
(He reflects thoughtfully.) The audience is so close . . . It’s interesting to see people in the front row. They are in some ways trying to get away – but they can’t. They are right there in the Tea Shop with you. . . . There are times when I’ve seen people crying, and it’s made me cry more, just feeling that energy.
It has been a blessing and a great experience to do this show, and to work with Michael Anthony Williams and Baakari Wilder.
“Master Harold”…and the boys plays through this Sunday, November 11, 2012. Performance this Friday and Saturday are at 8:00 P.M. and Sunday at 2:00 P.M. at Bay Theatre Company – 275 West Street, in Annapolis, MD. To order tickets call (877) 503-9463 or go purchase them online.
Review of “Master Harold”…and the boys by Sydney-Chanele Dawkins on DC Metro Theater Arts.