Geoffrey Kent on Swordfights, Playing Iago and the Colorado Shakespeare Season
Geoffrey Kent is a busy guy. He’s playing Don Pedro in this summer’s Colorado Shakespeare Festival production of Much Ado About Nothing, and he’s doing a couple of roles in Henry V. And Talbot in Henry VI, Part One. He’s also the fight director for all these shows, making sure feats of swordplay aren’t marred by actual stabbings. And starting Friday, he’ll be portraying Iago in Othello. The pace of summer repertory theater is blistering, one of the best workouts a theater person can get.
Kent is the quintessential local boy made good. Growing up near Alameda and Broadway, he later moved with his mom to Longmont, and then attended University of Northern Colorado. Soon he was out in the acting world, where an interest in learning stage-combat technique led to his mastery of everything from faked fisticuffs to swordplay to the handling of stage firearms. A past president of the Society of American Fight Directors, Kent’s special skills put him in demand for work with theaters that focus on such things as Shakespeare, swashbucklers and Martin McDonagh plays (works by the graphically violent contemporary Irish playwright have been a huge boon to the stage combat world).
Kent’s combat work naturally led him to more and more Shakespearean roles, until now he’s as well-known as a stalwart interpreter of the Bard as he is as a master at choreographing stage violence. He’s moving in new directions as well – his recent direction of Qui Nguyen’s She Kills Monsters at the Aurora Fox was well-regarded. He recently talked with us about the role of Iago, the allure of live theater and the close-knit Colorado scene.
Westword: Is it better for you to have a short rehearsal schedule? Does it prevent you from overthinking things?
Geoffrey Kent: It’s a fast and frenetic process, it really makes you put your head into it! I tend to celebrate the victory of the short rehearsal process. I like it because, like you said, it doesn’t give you time to question a lot of choices. You really have to go big or go home. Since the Shakespeare Festival has such a short run-up to the shows, an interesting aspect of working here is how the roles evolve through performances. They open strong, but they do tend to grow over the course of the run. Having a limited number of performances means that you absolutely go for it each time – still, hopefully, the same people die at the same time each show.
Is this your first Iago? How hard is it to play such an archetypical bad guy?
Well, he has the third-most lines of any Shakespeare character, and he talks to the audience a lot – but I don’t think they want him to talk to them. Iago is charming, and terrible. The role is front-loaded, and I do most of the talking. But the play is Othello’s. Iago in a way is just the narrator, the chorus as well as the antagonist. My job, if I do it, is to tell the story of Othello. If I’m too smarmy, I make Othello look like an idiot. Fortunately, we have a kick-ass Othello. He has a huge voice and presence, and I find myself leaning on him a little bit, which serves the play, it makes it more of a real relationship – these men were best friends, but Othello doesn’t know they aren’t anymore. It’s great to watch Peter Macon (Othello), so deeply conflicted and wrestling with doubt. I push, and push, and then overpush and put myself in danger – it’s going to be fun to watch, as fun as playing Mercutio a few years ago in Romeo and Juliet.
Continue reading this interview by Westword’s Brad Weismann here.