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Brief Encounter With ... Mariah Gale

Mariah Gale is a leading member of the Royal Shakespeare Company's 44-strong long ensemble, performing with the company over a three-year period from 2009 to 2011 (See News, 22 Sep 2010).

Among the roles Gale is tackling for the RSC is Juliet in Rupert Goold's current production of Romeo and Juliet, as well as the Lady of the Lake Le Morte d’Arthur, which premieres in July. She'll also be a member of the company performing at New York's historic Park Avenue Armory next year as part of the RSC's 50th anniversary celebrations.

Gale's previous credits for the RSC include A Midsummer Night's Dream, Love's Labours Lost and Hamlet, in which she played Ophelia opposite David Tennant.

How does it feel to be playing Juliet?
With every play that I work on I find that the more I look into the text, the more I fall in love with the character. Juliet is a lot more complex than I first thought. These characters become iconic and it is really interesting to then look within. What makes them weird? What makes them tick? What's very challenging and very fascinating with Juliet is that - after having played Ophelia for example, or Hero in Much Ado, who are very reactive young ingénue characters - Juliet is very proactive and incredibly intelligent. The speed and the dexterity of her thoughts are a real challenge to me. It's really great for a young actress like me to engage with a character like that because there aren’t many of them around.

What's it like working with the same company for so long?
I think that in this second year things have just fallen into place - this is what time does, it’s something you can’t fake or force. You can relax into a genuine connection with people. You come to trust them; the more you know someone the more you can play with them. On stage, it is massively beneficial. It would be amazing if you could merge the Histories Company and this company, with their two sets of ensemble experiences, and see what would happen.

I think acting jobs are like relationships. They are all wonderful in their own way, and it's impossible to compare them. I’ve enjoyed every ensemble I’ve been in. They seem to have a way of respecting people that are not just good actors, but good people too. I’ve been really lucky.

One of the advantages of the ensemble set-up is you get to play characters of differing status. Do you find the atmosphere a bit lonelier when you play the main part as compared to the other ensemble parts?
All the different parts in the ensemble come with different responsibilities. But what's great about this ensemble is that we keep mixing it up. I think playing a lead role you have to know how to handle your own fear: that was what I have discovered with Juliet. I’ve never been so much in the spotlight. To look around you and think ‘What am I scared of? These are all my friends in this room around me’ is the best feeling. I got a lot of advice from the other actors about how to deal with it.

How's your relationship with your Romeo, Sam Troughton?
We’ve become really good friends, which is great as I think the more you get to know the person you play opposite you the more freedom you have when you're acting. He is massively supportive and a really positive person. Whenever we get to the balcony scene, we say “whatever happens happens” and we just jump off into the unknown. Not literally, obviously.

What can you tell us about Rupert Goold's rehearsal approach?
He’s definitely a source of inspiration. The whole cast says it really, the way his mind works is really incredible and he gives great acting notes. You just sort of think 'My god, where did that come from?! That is completely weird and completely brilliant' (laughs).

I don't really want to give away any rehearsal room secrets, and anyway I'd find it very difficult to describe. He's very bold and fearless, and he’s also got immense amounts of patience with actors, which is quite a rare combination. He allows the production to become what it becomes.

What made you decide to become an actor?
No one else in my family is - or wants to be - an actor, so it feels like undiscovered waters for me, which is always exciting. I would say to anyone going into it to have courage in your convictions. I'd also say that you don’t have to be a gregarious person to be an actor: I was very shy and very quiet. Acting is essentially a way of telling someone else’s story.

Who have been your biggest influences?
The director Ed Dick has been a big influence. We worked together on ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore. Ed had assisted Declan Donnellan quite a lot, and was very influenced by him, and so I was introduced to the Declan Donnellan school of acting. I found it particularly helpful when he pointed out that we’re all inarticulate, so when you approach a classical text – even if it looks like beautiful poetry – you must remember that this person isn’t saying exactly what they mean and feel.

What would you say to any Shakespeare newcomers to tempt them to come along?
I would say that the plays are really about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. I also feel that Shakespeare says what I feel; he can articulate things that are common to everyone’s experience. So I would say “If you want to hear someone say out loud what you have always felt but not been able to articulate, then come along!” If you ever feel alienated by a production of Shakespeare, then it isn’t your fault it’s the production. We are here to make it modern and fresh, it’s our job. But then I would also say “Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!”

Are you looking forward to New York?
Absolutely, it's very exciting to be part of the company going over there. It's a great coup for Michael Boyd, and he's very good at keeping everyone in the company up to speed. When we were discussing the plan initially, he kept us informed every step of the way. He really is very democratic, and that's reflected in the happiness of the company.

Romeo and Juliet continues in rep at the Courtyard Theatre, Stratford until 27 August 2010. For more info on the RSC's long ensemble, visit www.rsc.org.uk


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