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By MARK BLANKENSHIP
Welcome to Building Character, TDF’s ongoing series about actors and how they create their roles.
Quick: Who are the most similar characters in As You Like It and The Tempest?
That’s not a random question. Those plays form the second season of the Bridge Project, a three-year experiment that uses a company of British and American actors to explore classic works. As they mount the two Shakespeare productions, now playing in repertory at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the company members are searching for the ways they overlap.
When rehearsals began last fall, actor Christian Camargo knew he’d be playing Orlando, the lovestruck young hero of As You Like It, and based on that casting, he assumed he knew his role in The Tempest. “Originally, I thought the obvious choice would be to play Orlando and Fernando, the two lover types,” he says, “But that seemed kind of boring to me.”
Then he learned he’d been cast in The Tempest as Ariel, an “airy spirit” who is trying to earn his freedom from the magician Prospero. As he causes magical storms, spies on Prospero’s enemies, and generally creates mischief, he might seem completely unrelated to Orlando, who spends most of As You Like It pining for a woman after being exiled from the court where she lives.
Camargo, however, sees plenty of connections between the two.
“As I play Orlando, I’m finding there are more and more similarities with Ariel,” he says. “For one thing, they both find themselves very oppressed.” He adds that they react to their oppression in similar ways, that they both have a “tremendous feminine nature” that makes them respond to problems with emotion instead of brute force.
That state of mind carries through both of his performances. “It’s less about physical actions that are the same and more about: Lead with the heart,” he says.
Take As You Like It’s famous wrestling scene, where Orlando defeats the court wrestler of a Duke who disliked his father. Camargo says he plays Orlando with the intention that he wants to honor his father’s memory and prove his own power. “To me, that’s an action guided by the heart,” he says. “That’s different than playing the scene like he’s just going in there to physically attack someone.”
Meanwhile, in scenes where Ariel rages against Prospero’s enemies, Camargo doesn’t think his character is actually becoming evil. “It’s fun to play Ariel in those moments when his heart closes down, because of course that’s all an act,” he says. “He’s always driven by the sense of needing freedom. He desperately wants to be free.”
Mark Blankenship is TDF’s online content editor.