Before we announce our 2015 ArtsImpulse Award Winners, we are proud to present our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series.
NOTE: If you were nominated for a 2015 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mark Linehan was a hilarious, show-stopping force in Wheelock Family Theatre's Shrek: The Musical. Playing Lord Farquaad, a three-foot tall villain, is no easy feat, but his dancing and singing in rousing chorus numbers was a spectacle in itself. Mark goes above his statute (he is quite taller in person) in how he empathized his Lord Farquaad while still making him wickedly fun to watch.
In his Interview, Mark discusses the age old question of the difficulties of comedy and drama, his advice to young actors, and a wonderfully funny audition story (we almost wish that we were a fly in that audition room).
Hi, Mark, and welcome to the 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series. Can you tell us a bit about yourself as a person and performer?
Thank you, Brian. I’m a Boston-born actor; I grew up in Natick, Massachusetts, and now my wife and I and our two year old daughter live in Malden.
I’ve been a professional actor since graduating from Emerson College almost nine years ago, and I’ve been a member of Actor’s Equity Association for five years. In that time, I’ve worked primarily in musical theatre, but I’ve also done plays, commercial and film work, and I have extensive experience in education as well. I also work as a costumed tour guide on the Freedom Trail in Downtown Boston.
Talk to us about your roles and performances in 2015. Who did you play, where did you perform, and what were their stories?
I did three shows in 2015. I played Lord Farquaad in Shrek: The Musical at Wheelock Family Theatre, of course, and I did two shows with Stoneham Theatre: as Miles Gloriosus in A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, and as Danny Frank in Christmas On The Air. Farquaad and Miles were both loud, larger-than-life characters who are more in love with themselves than anything else. And Danny was a 23 year old kid still living with his parents, and in love with a co-worker, but too nervous to tell her. So, that was a contrast.
What do you believe is harder to perform, comedy or drama? Do you approach them differently as an actor? Why and how?
Both styles have their own challenges, but I think comedy is harder because a sense of humor can’t be taught or directed. You see many famous actors successfully transition from comedy to drama, but you don’t often see the reverse. With the right amount of training and hard work, I believe that anyone can tackle roles requiring emotional depth and range. But comedy requires an ability to connect with an audience, because, unlike in drama, you are trying to elicit an audible, physical reaction from them—and you immediately know whether or not you’ve succeeded. And then you have to modulate your performance based on what’s working and getting laughs! A drama can be the same every night, no matter how many people are there, or how engaged they are. Comedy is harder precisely because everyone thinks it’s easier.
What are you currently reading? What have been some of the most influential stories that you have read or seen recently?
As I said before, I work as a tour guide on the Freedom Trail in Downtown Boston, so I read a lot of history. Right now, I’m reading a book called Tories about the American Loyalists who desired to remain part of Great Britain before and during the Revolution.
One of the most difficult things to understand about history is the idea that no one’s historical narrative is right or wrong. Unfortunately, the lesson of history is that very few of us are strictly good or bad; most of us are just human, though we tend to prefer our characters to be heroes or villains. When people find out we’re all a little of both, they realize that includes themselves, and that can be difficult to process.
Tell us a funny audition or performing story.
I had been called back for several roles in a musical a few years ago. I had already been told in the room to not bother with one of the sides because I “wasn’t a leading man.” So with this boosting my confidence, I prepped my next scene in which I only had two lines, separated by the other actor making wisecracks while I pretended to write them down. Well, the show was a comedy, so I felt in my infinite wisdom that I should be doing something funny and not merely taking dictation, so as soon as the other actor began his comedic riffing, I pretended to be bothered by a fly that I then proceeded to chase around the room. As I chased the fly, my attempts to kill it became larger and larger until finally I killed it on the floor with such force, I went into a somersault, and I timed it so that I leapt out of my somersault standing right next to the other actor, just in time for my second line.
I did not get the job.
How would your best friends describe you? Tell us in a poem if you are feeling adventurous!
"A Linehan friend would say, Those that doth know him/Know that Mark never would answer in poem."
What advice would you give a young performer? What advice do you wish that you had received?
I was taught to make it about the work, and that’s advice I think more actors need to hear. A lot of very successful college actors are simply unprepared for the realities of professional life. Some of the most talented people that I’ve worked with aren’t acting anymore. For some, it was the constant grind of auditions that didn’t pan out; for others, it was the reality that most jobs aren’t going to be dream roles, or even leading roles, but ensemble work where you’re not in the spotlight. College success doesn’t translate to professional success in the theater anymore than it does in professional sports. So, if you’re sitting in some college theater program somewhere and you’re the hotshot, just remember you could be the theater equivalent of Tom Brady, but you could also be Tim Tebow.
Also, success can only be based on the goals that you set for yourself. No one else in the world has the right to tell you whether or not you are a successful actor because only you can decide for yourself what you want. I’ve met many people who think I am a successful actor and many who think I’m not, and they’re both wrong. Many people who think my career isn’t going well, think I’m not successful because I’m not based in L.A. or New York, and, if I were actually successful, I wouldn’t be in Boston.
On the other hand, many of the people who think my career is going well have said that because of a commercial they’ve seen me in, and they believe that if I’m on TV, things must be going well. But a commercial is no more stable or successful than stage work, and television work comes along less regularly. Booking commercials adds great diversity to my career, but it’s only a small part of my path to success.
Every actor needs to decide for themselves what they want their career to be in respect to the rest of their lives. If you let other people dictate the terms of what success looks like in your life, you’ll never be happy.
What is something that you have to do every day? What is something that you wish that you didn’t have to do everyday?
I have to see my family every day. Being an actor has allowed me the flexibility to be a very involved father to my daughter, but the night and weekend schedule -- or taking a job out of state -- means I sometimes have to go without seeing her and my wife, and having to go extended amounts of time without seeing them is no fun.
As for something I wish I didn’t have to do every day, I hate having to do anything with my hair. Any day that I can just throw on a hat, I do.
Do you have a favorite fairy tale? Do you have a favorite fairy tale prince or princess? Why?
My strongest memories of fairy tales were the ones my grandmother used to read to me, and I think it was the time with her that I cherished more than the stories themselves. I’ve always been fascinated by fairy tales, or folk tales, because they offer the best insight into a culture’s aspirations, fears, and outlook on the world. I’m getting a greater appreciation for fairy tales again now that I’m reliving them with my daughter. And someday, maybe she’ll stop watching Frozen. Someday.
It’s not a fairy tale, it’s a folk tale, but the only prince-like character I ever wanted to be was Robin Hood. Then I got a little older and wanted to be Indiana Jones. So apparently I have strong reactions to cool hats and girls named Marian.
Do you have any upcoming projects?
I have no upcoming shows, but periods of theater unemployment are often the times that I find myself going through my audition binder, dusting off old monologues, and getting re-inspired to continue working in this insane and marvelous industry. Projects can often come out of nowhere and you’ve got to be ready when the opportunities present themselves.
Do you have anything else to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?
The question I got every day after performing as Lord Farquaad was, “How are your knees?!” And every day I answered that my knees were fine. And they were. A month after we closed.