Quick Wit: Henry Woronicz
Bobbie Steinbach talks to Woronicz about playing Leontes at A.R.T. and about his long working relationship with the Bard.
You've been so connected to Shakespeare in your career. How did you make the leap to sitcoms? I fell into it in an odd way. After I left the Oregon Shakespeare Festival I spent two years in LA. [Acting in sitcoms] felt very funny to me because my background was classical. But it actually was like being in a small theater company, like being in little plays. I was interested in what working in TV was about. I ended up doing research, watching a lot of TV, which I usually hate. I wanted to study acting styles and try to bring that into the audition process. Of course 90 percent of casting is what you look like when you walk through the door. As an actor I would say, "Damn, I can do that," and then I would watch the show and see a 6'5" black actor in the part. [When I was cast] I watched the show to see how I was doing, which you can't do in the theater. I'd go "Who is that person? I didn't know I was so shlumpy," or, "My God, I have a double chin!" It's really about learning different styles. It's analogous to working in a 1,200-seat theater, and then doing a play in a 40-seat black box. How did you initially get involved with the Bard? I went to Bridgewater State College as an undergraduate, where I got involved in children's theatre. After working in elementary schools for two years at about $25 a week, I auditioned for the Boston Shakespeare Company. They had five actors on a salary of $90 a week. I was playing Horatio to Will Lebow's [A.R.T. company member] Hamlet. When a paid actor quit, I was offered a place in the company. I did five to seven of Shakespeare's plays in repertory each year for five years. I learned a lot from Bill Cain, the company's founder. It was my grad school. I didn't plan on doing Shakespeare; it's been a great education for life, so many hard things to wrestle with, so rich. Sometimes it sticks like pasta to a wall. How many times have you been in The Winter's Tale? This my fourth time. I've played Leontes twice before. I was cast in the role [20 years ago] and I came in as an understudy [ten years ago] and took over for an actor who was ill. Now I have a whole other take on why this guy is so jealous. I also played Autolycus, a lovable rogue. He's sort of the comic relief, but he ends up helping to reunite the family without really meaning to. You've certainly lived in and plied your trade in many places. Where are you based now? I live just outside Wilmington, Delaware, with my partner Fontaine Syer, the artistic director of the Delaware Theatre Company. I did Moon for the Misbegotten there last year. This season I'll be doing some directing, and I'll also be playing Macbeth.
Bobbie Steinbach, TheaterMania's New England regional editor, is an actress in the Boston area. Her writing credits include three musical theater revues: A Woman Alone Onstage with a Piano, a Stool, a Lamp...; her one-woman show New Punims (with Lori Glazer, Wayne Barker, Bill Castellino); and Holidaze: a Christian, a Jew and a Ho-Ho-Homo Too! (with Kathy St. George , Robert Saoud, Jonathan Goldberg).