Christopher Curtis, the beloved host of Astraios concerts!
One of the beautiful things about live theatre is that story then is rediscovered every time you tell it, and it is slightly different with every telling, depending on the nuances of how you interact with the other actors on stage.
When did you start acting? My family would probably say that I’ve always been a “ham”. I did the occasional show in high school, and then I spent college and my twenties performing with a variety of improv troupes doing live performances where we made everything up on the spot. It was about ten years ago that I decided to return to scripted theatre and began doing lots of Shakespeare and the occasional musical. I have since joined the Actor’s Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers, and I currently perform in various theaters around the region.
Tell us about one or two of your favorite roles/shows.
I hate to be so cliche, but my favorite part is Hamlet—and not just because we were both philosophy majors who have trouble making decisions! The play, and specifically that role, is so complex, so human, so funny, so touching, so disturbing, so frustrating, so full of life and marked by death, it is the most compelling microcosm of the human experience I have ever encountered. And to have all of that wrapped up in Shakespeare’s glorious language is simply entrancing. I was lucky enough to perform the role once, and that night was even more powerful for me than I had anticipated.More recently, I got to play a very different part. In a play entitled “End of the Rainbow” about Judy Garland’s final concert series in London in the months before her death, I was cast as her accompanist, Anthony. The role was intended to be for a sixty-year-old, gay, Scottish pianist—so choosing me was a stretch. But that is the wonderful part of being a character actor—I get to play all kinds of different characters. And the relationship between Anthony and Judy was sometimes funny, sometimes tender, sometimes tense, but always true. It was definitely another highlight for me.
How do you prepare for a role?
It depends a bit on the role. Reading the play several times is always essential as a means to get to know your character. Sometimes you do roles that are based on historical people, and you can do additional research to flesh out your understanding of the person or the circumstances they were in—but you must also stay true to the way the character was written for the story you are telling (which often differs from how they were in real life or how that character might be portrayed in a different medium, like a novel). But a lot of the work can’t happen until the part is memorized. Once you know the lines, and can speak them almost without thinking, that is when you can really start acting. That is when you can be playful and try different things that may or may not work in the rehearsal process. As long as you are struggling to remember your lines, it is next to impossible to utter them with an honest conviction. And it is during the rehearsal process that you, along with your director and in tandem with the rest of your cast, find out exactly what works for telling your particular story. One of the beautiful things about live theatre is that story then is rediscovered every time you tell it, and it is slightly different with every telling, depending on the nuances of how you interact with the other actors on stage, and with the audience in the room—it is ever changing and yet ever present in the moment. And I think the same is true about live musical performances like the ones that Astraios puts on. Every concert (even of the same material) is different and unique, and it is incredibly special to be a part of an ephemeral art form like that.
How is it different to prepare to interact with an Astraios audience?
Astraios concerts are really a lot of fun for me. I get a lot of information before the concerts about the pieces and musicians, but I don’t have a script that I have to adhere to. I can say things in my own way, and highlight things that I find interesting. I can respond in the moment to things that I hear in the music, or to the audience that I am interacting with—and that is reminiscent of all of the live shows I did as an improv performer. But the other fun thing is that I just get to be myself. I’m not playing a character—I’m just my own nerdy, silly, curious self. Luckily for me, nerdy, silly, and curious seem to be qualities that Astraios likes to have in their hosts!